About the Colony

Theaters are business as usual in Atascadero

Last week, Atascadero’s planning body gave the nod to a second 10-screen theater, less than 1,000 feet from another one already under construction at Colony Square. I can’t help but think that having two movie theaters in a town this size will not be good for either one. Only one will ultimately survive.

But I’ll let the market sort that one out. Only Planning Commissioner Chuck Ward voted against granting a conditional use permit for La Plaza Theater, a complex that would be built on the site where the old Golden Way Auto Court once stood.

A couple of times, someone on the Planning Commission or in the audience said it was time that Atascadero was more friendly to new business and the conditional use permit should be granted to the theater project.Business interests have always had the upper hand in Atascadero. Historically, this town’s leaders have rarely seen a business project they didn’t like. It hasn’t always been bad, but business has more often than not gotten its way here.

Atascadero ended up with residential duplexes right in its downtown area because, back in the 1950s, locals thought it was good that the vacant lots were being filled up with something.

Business leaders insisted that the new state highway (101) cut through the middle of town and not go around the community, thereby giving us a less than convenient system of local streets and traffic circulation.

In more modern history, a city ban on metal buildings was followed quickly by giving approval to a metal, two-story brewery that encroached into the creek reservation on El Camino Real, right in the heart of downtown.

A zoning restriction limiting the bottom floors of downtown businesses to retail only was abandoned in a heartbeat when a number of those business owners wanted to rent to nonretail kinds of uses.

When other jurisdictions are getting rid of billboards, this city had welcomed three gargantuan, in-your-face, freeway-oriented signs.

The city did away with parking requirements to encourage development downtown. The Planning Commission did recommend that the new La Plaza Theater provide 46 off-street parking spots somewhere within 500 feet of the complex. That’s for a theater with 1,400 seats and the possibility of more downtown restaurants. The developer will have 133 on-site parking spaces, by the way.

The city’s downtown plan restricts the height of a building at 18 feet in the area where the new theater is to be built. The commission is recommending that the council waive that restriction because the new theater needs heights of 40 to 70 feet.

I love Atascadero, but history makes it pretty clear what interests prevail here. It pretty much explains why we look the way we do.

Lon Allan can be reached at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.