Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Big changes are in the works for A.G. Village

The Arroyo Grande City Council is scheduled to vote on a controversial project at its Tuesday, Feb. 9, meeting. If approved as proposed by city staff, it has the potential to bring major change to the village between Short and Mason streets on the south side of Branch Street.

I’m concerned that the majority of the citizens of Arroyo Grande are unaware of the proposal or how complex it is.

As simply as possible, the plan is this: Nick Tompkins of NKT Commercial will sell the office building at the southeast corner of Mason and Branch streets to the city in exchange for receiving title to the following city-owned Branch Street properties: the Conrad House, (100 years old with a large cedar tree in front), the 1950s Building Department office (which locals call the “malt shop”) at the corner of Short and Branch and the parking lot between those two properties.

Along with the real estate would be a payment of $1.2 million to NKT Commercial. That would make the total purchase price $2.4 million, the same that NKT paid for the building in October 2008. As I write this, the appraisals of the properties involved are being updated, but I don’t have the new numbers.

Also part of the plan is the permanent closure of Short Street north of the creek to make way for a Centennial Plaza and the pre-approval of the demolition of the “malt shop” so that NKT Commercial can build a 5,700 square foot building in place of the “malt shop” and the parking lot.

As I understand it, the entire plan will be rejected by NKT Commercial if the City Council does not approve demolishing the “malt shop” and the closure of Short Street. The December staff report included an estimated total budget of $250,000 for the plaza, but stated costs could run higher.

We are also being asked to approve a mitigated negative declaration rather than an environmental impact report for the project, pay $44,000 for design of the plaza and to apply for $1.2 million in debt financing.

When the proposal came to the City Council for comment on Dec. 8, Mayor Tony Ferrara was in favor of it as was Councilman Ed Arnold, while Councilman Jim Guthrie and I were not; Councilman Joe Costello sought more information.

According to some on the City Council, project advantages are: enhancement of the village environment; bringing more business to the village; better service to those who come to City Hall on business; saving tax dollars by having staff located in fewer buildings; the need for more City Hall space in the future; better Americans with Disabilities Act compliance; having a place to celebrate the city’s 100 year anniversary and history; and making the village more pedestrian friendly.

Disadvantages noted by the other council members were: loss of village charm, character and rural, small town feel; in the long run we will not need as much space as the NKT building offers; voters did not affirm the city facilities advisory measure; closure of Short Street will cause circulation problems and make it more difficult for shoppers to park; general plan language does not support a plaza in the village; the “malt shop” building should be adaptively re-used, not demolished; we would be spending money on something we don’t need; sale and/or purchase of real estate, closing a street and developing a plaza should each be considered separately and with public input; and Farmers Market would be relocated.

That’s the situation spelled out as well as space allows. The staff report and minutes from the December meeting go into much greater detail. If you feel that the Arroyo Grande Village is a special place, please let us know. I’m in the phone book, as are Councilman Guthrie and Mayor Ferrara. All of us can be contacted at our city e-mail addresses posted on the city’s Web site, but you can also reach me at clfellows@sbcglobal.net. City Manager Steve Adams can be reached at 473-5400.

One last thing — a citizen’s group called Save Short Street is working on a “citizen-generated alternative plan,” and would be happy to have more input. The group can be contacted at shortstreet@mtpicacho.net.

Your participation could make a difference, but time is running out. The Arroyo Grande City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal in just a few days. Chuck Fellows has served on the Arroyo Grande City Council since early 2007.