“Tricky,” “challenging,” and “difficult” were the adjectives that San Luis Obispo City Council members used to describe the decision before them on Oct. 18: Whether or not to approve a four-story mixed-use development project on the corner of Chorro Street and Foothill Boulevard.
Tension hung in the air as dozens of neighboring residents listened to city staff make their case in favor of the project and watched the council members deliberate. Many saw the decision as a game-changer for the future of the city.
On one hand, the development exceeded height restrictions by eight feet; it surpassed the maximum unit density for the area; and it included 40 percent fewer parking spots than would normally be required. The Planning Commission denied the project in August on a 4-1 vote, citing an excessive parking reduction and a height inconsistent with the General Plan.
But on the other hand, SLO really needs housing, and the project would provide 27 units of it, including four studios for very low-income renters. The city also recently revamped its land-use policies to welcome mixed-use, infill housing.
That was ultimately why the City Council upheld San Luis Development Group’s appeal, and approved the project on a 4-1 vote.
“I think at this point whatever type of housing we can get in will be beneficial,” Councilmember Dan Carpenter said.
Proposed on a half-acre of vacant land at 22 Chorro St., the development would face a commercial Foothill Boulevard to the north, but also border a residential neighborhood to the south. Its ground floor will be used for commercial/retail and the three floors above it will be housing. Applicant Loren Riehl laid out a vision of a biking community, where bike parking would be more needed than vehicle parking.
“We’ve pretty much put bicycle parking anywhere we can on this project,” Riehl said.
A divided community weighed in during a lengthy public comment period. Residents opposing the project cited privacy, parking, traffic, and safety concerns. One speaker called it “glorified student housing.” Its supporters argued that there is a need for housing in SLO and admired its eco-friendly transportation plan.
“This is a very difficult project to consider,” Mayor Jan Marx stated wearily following public testimony.
Councilmember Dan Rivoire praised the project for promoting alternative modes of transportation and for bringing more housing to the city, as did Councilmembers Carlyn Christianson, Carpenter, and Marx.
“If we aren’t going to build this project, we really should come up with some ideas of what the hell we do want,” Christianson said.
Councilmember John Ashbaugh, the project’s lone dissenter, was disillusioned by the council’s consensus.
“We used to have a mayor and council that acted for the citizens of the community,” Ashbaugh said. “Members of the community have spoken to the fact they feel threatened by this. This is going to be looking down into their backyards. They have not been adequately considered.”