Outcry from the manufacturing community so drained the San Luis Obispo City Council that members postponed mulling a resolution to include adding the long-term South Broad Street plan to the general plan for the city’s future.
On March 6, the council was asked to move the South Broad Street Area plan along so it could be included in the city’s Land Use and Circulation Element update for more study. The plan would dictate how future development would occur along South Broad from Upham to just south of Orcutt Road over the next 20 years.
It calls for approximately 425 new dwellings and 880,000 square feet of commercial space, a construction of a “Main Street” on Victoria Avenue, as well as a smattering of commercial-residential rezoning. The rationale behind the effort, now six years in the making, is to increase affordable housing and beautification and to create better walkability and connectivity to neighboring areas.
A possible street median and better pedestrian access are also possibilities in the plan.
However, Associate Planner David James reported that, given the necessary rezoning, only roughly 70 percent of the existing manufacturing businesses in the area would conform to the new uses. That figure didn’t sit well with the 30 or so business owners—many of whom have been operating in the area for decades—and supporters in the audience.
“We love our neighbors. We work with our neighbors. And we take care of each other,” said John Caruana, owner of Rainbow Automotive on Francis Avenue. “Why are you picking on us?”
City Council candidate Paul Brown noted that the city’s manufacturing community provides head-of-household jobs and significant revenue to city coffers.
Even the Save Our Downtown folks got into the mix, warning the council that developments that try to replicate those in the downtown area would end up hurting those downtown businesses.
An emotional Eric Meyer, a planning commissioner who moved the draft plan to the council, spoke last.
“I’m hearing a lot of testimony here and it’s changed my thinking,” Meyer said. “[Manufacturers] create jobs. They walk the walk. I don’t want to hurt them.”
The council quickly backpedaled to possible alternatives such as removing McMillan Avenue from the plan or creating an overlay for a special South Broad Street manufacturing zone, which would allow nearly all businesses to conform.
After a series of unsuccessful motions given the council’s new even-numbered votes following the departure of Andrew Carter, the council voted 3-1 to continue the item to its March 19 meeting, where staffers will come back with a resolution that Public Works Director Derek Johnson said would satisfy the council’s concerns.
Councilman Dan Carpenter dissented, saying he preferred focusing the plan strictly to South Broad Street.
“Normally I’m a fan of good long-term planning. However, every once in a while we have something that trumps that planning,” Carpenter said. “It’s the people that have nurtured this environment, and sometimes we need to back away and leave it alone.”