When a commercial project with two one-story buildings at Monterey and Santa Rosa streets went before San Luis Obispo’s Architectural Review Commission in January, the advisory body approved it but called it underwhelming.
“We all said we wish we could have more,” Greg Wynn, ARC’s chairman, recalled Monday, at the commission’s most recent meeting.
“So thank you for listening,” he told the developers. “But (going) from one to seven (stories) is too much.”
The commission conceptually reviewed a new proposal for the site at 1101 Monterey St., the former home of a Shell service station. The latest proposal envisions a 124,000-square-foot project with two 75-foot-tall buildings that house an 80-room hotel and retail, office and residential space. Also proposed is a 45-foot-tall public parking garage and transit center on two adjacent properties fronting Higuera Street.
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Four of the six commissioners at Monday’s meeting suggested the applicants — Andrew Firestone and Jess Parker of Santa Barbara-based hospitality firm StonePark Capital, and Nick Tompkins of NKT Commercial — lower the height.
Several said they would be willing to accept a building as tall as 60 feet — the same height proposed in another nearby project that was also reviewed at Monday’s meeting. The 1101 Monterey St. project will return to the commission later for review, though it won’t have the final say over it.
Firestone said Tuesday that it’s too early in the process “to start hacking and chopping” the project, but he wants to provide more images and renderings to the commission to show the proposed development in context with existing buildings and surrounding topography.
“Seventy-five feet isn’t a number that we swiped out of midair,” Firestone said. “It’s part of an overall plan that allows all of this to become viable, including adding that garage.”
The second project reviewed Monday would redevelop the buildings that make up 1009-1025 Monterey St., next to the Fremont Theatre. That project would be a 60-foot-tall, five-story building offering a mix of retail, office, restaurant and residential uses. Developers Rob Rossi and John King initially proposed building to 75 feet but reduced the height to 60 feet.
Both projects will come back to the ARC for another conceptual review before moving ahead in their separate city processes. The Fremont Square project, which also is reviewed by the Cultural Heritage Committee because it is located in a downtown historical district, only requires ARC approval.
Firestone, Parker and Tompkins will take their proposal to the city Planning Commission for a conceptual review in January.
The ARC heard Monday from about a dozen residents who urged them to reject the 75-foot-tall project, saying it would block views, set a precedent for other developers and take away from San Luis Obispo’s small-town charm.
“The thought of a 75-foot structure makes me sad,” said resident Pam Orth, who walks downtown from her home numerous times a week. “I enjoy the mountains, the clouds and the sunshine. Change is inevitable, but I have noticed less sunshine on the streets and less hills in the background due to higher buildings going up.”
Several other residents urged the commission to consider a taller project to allow for much-needed housing.
“You have to compromise with height or you get sprawl, so seriously consider the height,” resident Sheryl Flores said. “You may reduce the size, but I hope you consider the size and scale, which are important to the affordability of housing. If you tweak too far, then the housing isn’t available.”
Although both buildings are designed to be 75 feet tall, one is proposed at seven stories tall; the other would be five stories. Firestone said the interior ceiling heights would differ.
Four commissioners — Wynn, Patty Andreen, Ken Curtis and Angela Soll — expressed concerns about the height. Commissioner Suzan Ehdaie said she was fine with the height “either way … as long as it’s more than one story.”
More stories can accommodate residential units, she said, which is “very needed in the city, especially workforce and affordable housing.”
Commissioner Allen Root said he was on the fence about the height.
“I’m not going to say take a floor off of there,” he said. “If it can be structured so 75 foot is allowable and the massing respects the neighborhood, then I think we’ve achieved something.”
The ARC and the Cultural Heritage Committee also met jointly Monday to conceptually review Fremont Square, which calls for retail and office space on the ground floor, commercial use on the second, third and fourth floors, and 21 residential units on the fifth floor, according to a project description from Studio Design Group Architects Inc.
Feedback on that proposal focused less on the height and more on what some called a “hodgepodge” design, the lack of parking and concerns that the project could overshadow the Fremont Theatre.
“Most of all I would like to preserve the presence of the Fremont,” said Thom Brajkovich, a member of the Cultural Heritage Committee.
James Papp, another committee member, added, “I think more importantly … we need to respect the very good architecture of the buildings, such as the (art) deco county courthouse and deco Fremont Theatre. To put up a building that is a strange mess of elements … it is really problematic.”
The project is in the downtown-commercial zone, which allows a maximum building height of 75 feet if the project meets at least two policy objectives such as affordable and workforce housing, pedestrian amenities, historic preservation or energy efficiency, among others, according to San Luis Obispo’s zoning regulations.
Only two parking spaces are proposed; developers in the downtown-commercial zone may pay a fee in lieu of providing parking.
“To not have a parking space near your house is going to be very difficult, and I don’t think they’ll be serious homes,” said Andreen, one of the commissioners.
A closer look
Two 75-foot-tall buildings with an 80-room hotel, 26,000 square feet of residential units, 33,000 square feet of office space, 20,000 square feet of retail or restaurant space are proposed at 1101 Monterey St.
Fremont Square proposes a 60-foot tall building with 49,400 square feet of office space, 11,040 square feet of residential units, 7,900 square feet of retail or restaurant space and 7,300 square feet of common areas at 1009-1025 Monterey St.