Garden Street Terraces gain SLO council approval despite public outcry
November 2, 2011
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
The San Luis Obispo City Council approved with conditions the proposed 1.1- acre downtown development project called Garden Street Terraces, despite overwhelming public comment against the proposal.
Submitted by Westpac Investments in 2006, the proposed project contains residential and commercial development, as well as a hotel, all within the borders of Garden and Broad streets and Marsh Street and Garden Alley.
The council voted 4-1 in favor of the project, conditional upon Westpac meeting three requests: placement of public art on the corner of Broad and Marsh streets, directional signs for garage parking and minimized disruption to local businesses during construction. If Westpac complies with the three conditions, the project will need no further approval from the council.
Council member Kathy Smith cast the only vote against the Garden Street Terraces.
“I really don’t like the project,” Smith said. “I see it kind of as risky venture, and I don’t feel that the uses are compatible with the surrounding businesses.”
Smith said she expects future residents of the terraces to become unhappy upon arrival due to the noise and disturbances coming from the nightly bar traffic. She also criticized the appearance of the proposed project, siding with the majority of speakers during public comment.
A total of 32 members of the audience made public comment about the Garden Street Terraces, most of who expressed complaints about the architectural design of the project.
San Luis Obispo resident Jim Dunan, like many others, did not oppose the project in entirety, but said it was in desperate need of redesign.
“The design could probably be done by a senior in high school with a ruler,” Dunan said. “I’d like to see this hotel downtown, but not at the expense of two black boxes.”
Lots of speakers commented on the use of black in the design, some describing it as “psychologically depressing” and portraying “death” and “evil.”
Others complained that the project would obstruct the view of the mountains from downtown, creating a “harsh, cold industrial scene.”
San Luis Obispo resident and co-founder of Occupy SLO Pete Evans said the project is ruining small business and corporatizing the town.
“We are all the 99 percent, except perhaps the developers,” Evans said.
Chief developer of the project and Westpac executive Hamish Marshall received the final word during public comment.
Marshall said that after eight years of work on the project, Garden Street Terraces are moving forward whether or not public concern persists.
“We can’t make everyone happy, and we can’t pick away parts of the project because it’s a cohesive design,” Marshall said.
Marshall also addressed accusations that he is in only in it for the money.
“I, too, am a resident of this city and have been for nearly twenty years,” Marshall said. “I employ over 300 people in this city. I am absolutely 100 percent committed to this city, the way its formed, the way we build it out and the future of it.”
In supporting the project as proposed, council members Dan Carpenter and Andrew Carter commended Marshall for meeting city guidelines and complying with the scrutiny of the Architectural Review Commission.
“We’ve got four or five pounds of flesh out of the applicant,” Carter said.
Mayor Jan Marx and vice mayor John Ashbaugh each made various design requests but, in the end, approved the project.
“This is going to be the contribution of our generation,” Ashbaugh said. “Everybody who participated in this project in any way, including those who still really dislike this project, can take pride in the fact that they have participated and influenced this project.”
A model of the proposed Garden Street Terraces is available for viewing in the Community Development Department. Developers expect construction to begin in about two years and to last 18-24 months.