Editorials

Massive new buildings threaten the heart and soul of downtown SLO

A rendering of the proposed 1144 Chorro St. project shows how the building would look from the corner of Marsh and Chorro streets.
A rendering of the proposed 1144 Chorro St. project shows how the building would look from the corner of Marsh and Chorro streets.

How's this for a bummer?

An entertainment complex — complete with bowling alley, concert venue and restaurants — won't be opening in downtown San Luis Obispo after all, at least not at the corner of Marsh and Chorro streets

Instead, a six-story, 75-foot behemoth may rise in its place, dwarfing everything around it.

Normally, buildings in the downtown core are limited to 50 feet, but exceptions can be made under certain circumstances.

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A rendering shows the comparison of elevations between a proposed mixed-use project at 1144 Chorro St. in San Luis Obispo and neighboring buildings. Ten Over Studio

Please, not this time.

We already have two giant luxury hotels under construction in the downtown. Isn't that enough? Does the city of SLO want the entire downtown overrun by giant, boring boxes?

Based on the renderings of the proposed building, that's exactly what we would be getting; the scale of the building is completely out of proportion compared to everything around it.

On top of that, it's not offering anything we don't already have downtown; plans include a ground floor of retail, two floors of office space and three floors of apartments.

Jeremy Pemberton, managing partner of the Discovery SLO on Chorro Street in downtown San Luis Obispo, talks on April 7, 2017, about what the new entertainment center will look like. Construction is expected to start soon.

As much as we need more housing in San Luis Obispo, we can't condone sacrificing the ambiance of the downtown for the sake of 55 apartments, even if those apartments are "affordable by design," which is doubtful. (A spokesperson for the company proposing the project said it would be premature to answer questions about how much the apartments would run.)

Also, these apartments wouldn't be practical for many renters; 45 would be small studio units under 600 square feet; the remaining 10 would be one-bedroom units. That's great for singles and couples. But what about families? Do we not want them living downtown? (And before you say that downtown living isn't kid-friendly, we invite you to consider New York City, or San Francisco, or Chicago.)

And do we really need still more office space in the downtown core? We don't believe so. People don't have to go downtown to see a lawyer or a chiropractor or an investment guru. In fact, many prefer offices outside the downtown core to avoid traffic and parking hassles.

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People go downtown to shop, to eat, to be entertained — which is why the bowling alley would have been a great addition — and to enjoy the unique vibe each city center has to offer.

Downtown SLO is known for its historic Mission, its outdoor spaces, its charming, one- and two-story shops and restaurants — not for its impersonal, big-city architecture.

It's up to city officials to keep it that way.

We strongly urge the city to deny this project as currently proposed and advise the applicant to return with a scaled-down proposal. One idea: Drop the building down to four stories by cutting the offices.

To further protect the downtown, we also urge the City Council to give developers a clear signal that buildings as massive as this one are completely out of character for San Luis Obispo, and will not be approved.

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