Garden Street Terraces, a hotel, residential and retail complex proposed for downtown San Luis Obispo, received a major boost when the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association delivered a “vote of confidence” for the project.

The area for the proposal is the block between Garden and Broad streets between Higuera and Marsh streets. The location is currently home to a parking lot, several stores, restaurants, bars and Bubblegum Alley.

The project consists of a 70-room hotel with a restaurant and café, 25,000 square feet of commercial/retail space, 53 residential units, and 162 parking spaces. It would also implement city-approved enhancements to Garden Street that have previously lacked funding for completion.

The project is currently in the planning stages at City Hall, but that has not stopped the developer, Westpac Investments Inc., from conducting a public outreach campaign that started in 2005, sending postcards to city residents asking for their opinions and concerns.

The public comment period just closed, and now the comments will be reviewed by the environmental consultant, who should issue a response by late July in time to go before the planning committee in August.

“People are more excited than not; the majority of the responses have been very positive,” said Carol Florence, principal planner for Oasis Associates, a landscape architect and project planning agency in charge of Garden Street Terraces.

“San Luis Obispo is not like other urban centers in the sense that we don’t have a lot of residential in the downtown area,” Florence said. “We are very hopeful and positive that this project will work very well to maintain and enhance downtown vitality.”

Members of the community who checked the box to request more information will be invited to a special hearing next month. Details are not yet available.

Some criticisms of the project include the building’s size and height, as well as the fate of historical buildings on location. Developers have proposed to move the historic buildings and assure the community that the plan meets all city zoning regulations.

George Garcia, a Cal Poly alumnus and head architect for the project, anticipates construction to take between 18 and 20 months.

Most of the staging for the construction will take place internally within the block, reducing the obstruction of street and pedestrian traffic in the area.

“The big issue is with existing businesses and minimizing the effect on them as much as possible,” Garcia said. “Making sure their customers have full access and they have plenty of notice concerning closures to accommodate their needs. Our priority is not to be a hardship.”

He added that all the businesses have been extremely positive and see the potential benefit for the city. At the heart of the matter is creating a hotel downtown, since the closest options currently are Apple Farm Inn on Monterey Street or Embassy Suites at Madonna Plaza.

If the proposal were to go forward, Garden Street would be home to a privately owned, non-franchised hotel that city planners hope will bring in visitors to revitalize business downtown.

The project as designed is also capable of a silver award from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

“From the get-go, it has been designed to be as sustainable as possible,” Garcia said.

Most of the businesses that will be affected by the project reside in unreinforced masonry buildings that require retrofittings by 2012, meaning construction, relocation and possible closures are in the future for downtown, even without Garden Street Terraces.

The fate of Bubblegum Alley has not yet been decided, but developers have implied they will act in accordance with city planners and community opinion.

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