Vision for downtown SLO calls for more housing, fewer cars, improved entertainment

2017-09-07 | Tribune

Sept. 07 --Pedestrians, bicyclists, Uber passengers and future driverless car users will be well-served under a long-term vision of the future of San Luis Obispo's downtown. So would those who call for higher density housing and revamped art and entertainment venues.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved a new Downtown Concept Plan, initiated in 2015, which lays out a blueprint for what the downtown will look like over the next 25 years and beyond. It addresses city needs and societal trends, including shopping, living and transportation habits.

The concept was drafted by a team of local design professionals, led by San Luis Obispo graphic designer Pierre Rademaker , factoring in community ideas and interests.

While it doesn't regulate zoning or projects, the concept offers a reference tool for developers and city planners. A 1993 version has been heavily influential in shaping the city's growth.

"It's meant to inspire and to guide," said Assistant City Manager Derek Johnson . "This document puts together a coherent vision."

Key features include:

-- Drop-off zones on every block for taxi services such as Uber and Lyft and future driverless cars. Widened sidewalks, increased pedestrian and bike pathways, and new protected bike lanes, including on Marsh and Higuera streets.

-- New parking structures accessible from Palm, Nipomo , Marsh, Pacific and Toro streets that could be redesigned for other uses if driverless shuttles and cars become the norm. Parking is directed to the perimeter of San Luis Obispo's core with easy walking access to the centralized hub.

-- Higher and medium density downtown housing and smaller dwelling units with building heights that typically don't exceed 50 feet (generally around the perimeter of downtown). Taller buildings would be compatible with those nearby, located toward the centers of city blocks and away from historic zones such as Chinatown .

-- Expansions and upgrades of the city's arts and entertainment corridor, including the History Center of San Luis Obispo County , the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art and Mission Plaza . New public art installations, a splash pad (a mini-play park that sprays water out of ground nozzles) and plantings are encouraged.

-- New plazas and paseos with some shared streets for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, including stretches of Monterey Street near Mission Plaza and the downtown core between Higuera and Marsh streets.

-- Mixed-use developments above commercial and office spaces to promote retail shopping, which may be limited to brick and mortar businesses that aren't as affected by online competition.

The implementation of the plan will depend on factors such as funding, regulatory approvals and prioritization.

"Everybody has an opinion of how we should walk, ride or bike through downtown," said Eric Meyer , a design team volunteer. "This is a balance, a ying and yang, a disparate bunch of ideas, and we argued a lot. We came together and I'm proud of what we did."

Mayor Heidi Harmon supported the plan, but also questioned a proposed $25 million parking structure, which could be built in the 2019-2020 fiscal year at the intersection of Nipomo and Palm streets near Mission Prep High School . That would be the first of the new parking garages.

"I know this has gone back and forth and we've had a lot of internal questions about it, but will we actually need this (structure) when it's actually happening?" Harmon said.

The proposed garage could be built so that it could be re-used for other purposes if autonomous cars become the norm, said Tim Bochum , the city's deputy director of transportation. The City Council will discuss the parking garage in depth at future meetings.

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