Architecture and environmental design senior David Lee sat at his desk in his architecture studio on campus. It was after 11 p.m. and he would be there another two hours before going home.
Lee wasn’t up late so he could finish an assignment for school. He was answering e-mails regarding the Facebook group he started about two weeks ago, â€śSave our Downtown.” He says he gets about 100 e-mails a day.
Lee started â€śSave our Downtownâ€ť when retired architecture and environmental design professor Allan Cooper approached him about plans for a new 212,000-square-foot building, nearly five years in the works to be built in San Luis Obispoâ€™s downtown area. The building, called Garden Street Terraces, will run along Marsh Street between Garden and Broad streets.
Lee started the Facebook group in response to the project which he and other Cal Poly architecture students are disgusted by, he said.
“We were completely appalled,” Lee said. “It’s too massive for downtown. Plus it’s not a good piece of architecture, anyways.”
In just two weeks, â€śSave our Downtownâ€ť has reached 1,722 members. Members of the group have been debating whether the buildingâ€™s addition to San Luis Obispoâ€™s downtown area will be a good thing.
Garden Street Terraces is a â€śmixed-use developmentâ€ť that will include a 95-room hotel, 21,000-square-feet of commercial retail space, a 14,000-square-foot neighborhood market and apartments. Downtown Brewing Company, the Smith building and the Laird building on Garden Street and San Luis Traditions on Marsh Street will all be retrofitted as a result of the project. Two of the buildings on the block will be demolished.
The projectâ€™s website claims the building will stay within the cityâ€™s 75-foot height cap. But some members of the community, including Lee, are not convinced this is enough.
â€śImagine you come downtown to sit at Linnaeaâ€™s and have a coffee and hereâ€™s this enormous building in front of you,â€ť Lee said. â€śIs this the kind of feeling you want when you go downtown in SLO? Thereâ€™s a reason people like this city so much â€” itâ€™s small and has a unique feel to it. This would change all of that.â€ť
One worker at Linnaeaâ€™s Cafe, across the street from where the Garden Street Terraces will be, said the people at Linnaeaâ€™s are hoping the addition to the street wonâ€™t affect their ability to run a successful local business.Â
â€śWe like that all of the local businesses in this area help each other out and try to have each othersâ€™ backs,â€ť she said. â€śI donâ€™t think this will affect our business too much, and I think weâ€™re all keeping a positive attitude about this project.â€ť
In addition to changing the â€śfeel of San Luis Obispo,â€ť members of â€śSave our Downtownâ€ť have expressed other concerns about the project. Some of the problems they have with the proposed structure are the shadows it will cast on surrounding buildings such as Linnaeaâ€™s. Also, some members of the group said the size and placement of the building will cause a draft tunnel.
Anytime you have a street or alleyway with large buildings on either side of it, this creates a wind tunnel, Lee said. When you have buildings of this size in a row it creates this effect, which will cause a draft along downtown.
Architecture junior Tiffany Carlson said she understands the cityâ€™s desire to create a way to increase tourism and revenue but thinks the project could take on a less obtrusive size.
â€śThis is an irresponsible plan.Â San Luis ObispoÂ and the downtown area are visited and loved because of the small town, casual feel, (which) is a break from many other cities in this state,”Â Carlson said. “If we start building bigger and taller, which will be the inevitable result of this project, we will destroy exactly what it is that draws in tourists in the first place. Imagine going to Farmers’ Market in a cold shadowy wind tunnel created by seven-story buildings on both sides. I promise it won’t be a very pleasant Thursday experience.â€ť
According to â€śSave our Downtown,â€ť at approximately 74 feet, the Garden Street Terrace building will be the biggest building downtown, surpassing the Wineman Hotel and the parking structures located on Palm and Marsh streets.
However, members of the firm responsible for the project said â€śSave Our Downtownâ€ť is too biased and is not presenting the facts of the project fairly to the public.
Isaac Greenetz is a local architect and works for WestPac Investments, the firm in charge of the Garden Street Terraces project. San Luis Obispo has a lot to gain from the addition of this building to the downtown area including revenue from tourism and a great place for people to live and work, he said.
Greenetz said he wants to see the â€śSave our Downtownâ€ť do a better job at telling the public about the project. In a diagram â€śSave our Downtownâ€ť posted, the Garden Street Terrace building is the largest pictured, surpassing theÂ Palm StreetÂ parking structure. According to Greenetz, the Garden Street Terrace building will not be the largest building downtown and the diagram is misleading.
â€śThe group is very biased against the project,â€ť Greenetz said. â€śThis is not the tallest building downtown. TheÂ AndersonÂ building,Â Palm StreetÂ parking structure and AT&T building are all bigger. Itâ€™s very easy to make those renderings look very large, but the concern of the height is very uninformed.â€ť
The cityâ€™s 75-foot height cap is judged on an areaâ€™s average height he said, which in the case of theÂ Palm StreetÂ parking structure allows for some buildings to be even taller than 75 feet from the base of the building.
Only parts of the building will come to close to the height cap, Greenetz said. The rest of the buildingâ€™s design is terraced, so the roof gets farther from the street as you go up in stories. This will create less of a shadow over downtown than the original proposed project.
â€śThis absolutely will not change the feel of SLO,â€ť Greenetz said. â€śThis is a large building, but itâ€™s not some giant tower looming over downtown.â€ť
Other community members have joined the Facebook group to show their support for the project, saying that Garden Street Terrace will not change the feeling of the downtown area.
Khaldoon Khaireddin, an architecture and environmental design senior, said he doesnâ€™t think the project will ruin anything about downtown and will increase the value of the area.
â€śAs it is now, Garden StreetÂ is not a pleasant place to be; itâ€™s run-down and dark,â€ť Khaireddin said. â€śFilling in that back alley with new housing would actually rejuvenate the street.â€ť
Several people in support of the project are looking forward to the financial impact the project will have on the city.
This is why this project is so important toÂ San Luis Obispo, Greenetz said.
â€śRight now in our economic time, to have a developer come and build something like this is going to help downtown become great. Weâ€™re bringing more people and revenue to the area,” Greenetz said.
Supporters of the group realize there is a financial benefit to the building, Lee said. The group is pushing for the plans to be made smaller and for people to think about the effect the structure will have onÂ San Luis ObispoÂ in the future, he said.
â€śThis building is going to happen,â€ť Lee said. â€śIf we allow something to be built at this size, where are we going to draw the line?â€ť
Lee and other supporters of â€śSave our Downtownâ€ť plan to tell the city council why they think this project is a bad idea and to propose alternatives to the current plans. They will speak at the city council meeting June 1 fromÂ 4Â toÂ 6 p.m.
It will be up to the council to make the final requirements for the project based on recommendations from the city planning commission, said Tyler Corey, the official responsible for overseeing the project.
“There are negatives and positives to this project,” Corey said. “As of now I think the planning commission agrees that it is a little too tall, a little out of character (for SLO’s downtown),” Corey said. “We are going to ask for more adjustments but we have a much better project than what it started as.”