About the Colony

Atascadero needs a real downtown plan

Last week I helped a friend move from Atascadero to Arroyo Grande. To get to her new home we had to go through the Village of Arroyo Grande. What a delightful and inviting atmosphere exists in that tiny commercial section that is only a few blocks long. I wanted to stop and walk around and go into the shops.

Clearly, a focus was placed on developing the Village into what we see today. Attractive signs and colorful storefronts are the result of a focus on this section of Arroyo Grande.

I drive through Templeton a lot. I’ve commented in past columns it is obvious that anyone who wants to build a commercial building on Templeton’s Main Street is going to have to comply with some stiff design regulations.

I would say that business owners and developers in both Arroyo Grande and Templeton get their collective feet held to the fire to build and remodel in a manner consistent with some plan.

Historically, Atascadero has never had a plan. It would be more accurate to say Atascadero has never had a plan that lasts. There are many instances where the plan was dumped because a developer wanted to build what he wanted, not what was required of him.

I was impressed with what I read of a study undertaken by Atascadero’s planning department, currently under the helm of Phil Dunsmore. He highlighted for the City Council the “challenges” of developing a workable downtown for Atascadero when you have a single main street seven miles long.

The report candidly points out that two factors have been in force for years — residential development and commercial development. That’s why there is a mixture of commercial and retail construction next to residential uses the full length of the city’s strip.

Dunsmore was correct to point out that for many years there has been an attempt to get retail everywhere. At the same time, allowing Southern California companies in the 1950s to build housing on commercial property certainly sealed the coffin for any kind of cohesive downtown.

There is a great deal of pressure to build housing. Atascadero is allowing houses on postage-sized lots all over the city.

The city council has allowed non-retail uses (such as fitness centers and professional uses) for buildings zoned retail.

I have always said Atascadero will never become a destination place for retail. There is no area where any kind of group dynamic can take place.

And, I believe, with Wal-Mart coming here soon, that development will suck out what life is left in plans for any kind of downtown Atascadero.

Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 466-8529 or leallan@tcsn.net.