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The Atascadero City Council accepted the application of a developer to build a Wal-Mart at Del Rio Road and El Camino Real, giving the company its first step forward in a years-long contentious attempt to put a store there.

The vote was 4-1, with Mayor Mike Brennler, elected last year in a clean-government sweep motivated in part by issues associated with past Wal-Mart battles, voting to approve the project along with councilmen Tom O'Malley, George Luna, and Jerry Clay. Ellen Beraud voted against.

"I wanted to send a message to Wal-Mart and [the] Rottman [Group] that there's still work to be done and there isn't 100 percent support for this development," she said.

In its current form, the project is about 25 percent smaller than a 195,000-square-foot proposal that stalled last year.

"It's not a done deal," Brennler cautioned in an interview. "We have a ways to go."

As the project moves forward, Brennler said he'll look for assurances that Wal-Mart will be a "good neighbor" by paying for project infrastructure costs, creating a buffer from the surrounding neighborhood, and not expanding the project plans beyond the current size.

Oppose Wal-Mart spokesman Tom Comar said he wasn't surprised by the parking lot proposal council vote, but expects the process will point out the "dramatic adverse impacts" a store would have. The group is also pushing for a Nov. 8 ballot initiative that would limit grocery sales to 5 percent of the footprint of it and other large stores.

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