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, “Save our Downtown.” He says he gets about 100 e-mails a day.
Lee started “Save our Downtown” 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 Obispo’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, “Save our Downtown” has reached 1,722 members. Members of the group have been debating whether the building’s addition to San Luis Obispo’s downtown area will be a good thing.
Garden Street Terraces is a “mixed-use development” 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 project’s website claims the building will stay within the city’s 75-foot height cap. But some members of the community, including Lee, are not convinced this is enough.
“Imagine you come downtown to sit at Linnaea’s and have a coffee and here’s this enormous building in front of you,” Lee said. “Is this the kind of feeling you want when you go downtown in SLO? There’s a reason people like this city so much — it’s small and has a unique feel to it. This would change all of that.”
One worker at Linnaea’s Cafe, across the street from where the Garden Street Terraces will be, said the people at Linnaea’s are hoping the addition to the street won’t affect their ability to run a successful local business.
“We like that all of the local businesses in this area help each other out and try to have each others’ backs,” she said. “I don’t think this will affect our business too much, and I think we’re all keeping a positive attitude about this project.”
In addition to changing the “feel of San Luis Obispo,” members of “Save our Downtown” 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 Linnaea’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 city’s desire to create a way to increase tourism and revenue but thinks the project could take on a less obtrusive size.
“This is an irresponsible plan. San Luis Obispo 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,” 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.”
According to “Save our Downtown,” 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 “Save Our Downtown” 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 “Save our Downtown” do a better job at telling the public about the project. In a diagram “Save our Downtown” posted, the Garden Street Terrace building is the largest pictured, surpassing the Palm Street parking structure. According to Greenetz, the Garden Street Terrace building will not be the largest building downtown and the diagram is misleading.
“The group is very biased against the project,” Greenetz said. “This is not the tallest building downtown. The Anderson building, Palm Street parking structure and AT&T building are all bigger. It’s very easy to make those renderings look very large, but the concern of the height is very uninformed.”
The city’s 75-foot height cap is judged on an area’s average height he said, which in the case of the Palm Street 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 building’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.
“This absolutely will not change the feel of SLO,” Greenetz said. “This is a large building, but it’s not some giant tower looming over downtown.”
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 doesn’t think the project will ruin anything about downtown and will increase the value of the area.
“As it is now, Garden Street is not a pleasant place to be; it’s run-down and dark,” Khaireddin said. “Filling in that back alley with new housing would actually rejuvenate the street.”
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 to San Luis Obispo, Greenetz said.
“Right now in our economic time, to have a developer come and build something like this is going to help downtown become great. We’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 on San Luis Obispo in the future, he said.
“This building is going to happen,” Lee said. “If we allow something to be built at this size, where are we going to draw the line?”
Lee and other supporters of “Save our Downtown” 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 from 4 to 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.”