Save Atascadero files lawsuit about Walmart

ATASCADERO — Save Atascadero filed a lawsuit against the city of Atascadero on Aug. 9 that challenges the city’s actions made on June 26 in regard to the Walmart/Annex.

According to city attorney Brian Pierik, the lawsuit could delay the project at least a year or more.

The petition, filed by Mark R. Wolfe and John H. Farrow of M.R. Wolfe and Associates, P.C. of San Francisco, the attorneys for Save Atascadero, says that the lawsuit challenges the city’s actions that certified the environmental impact report under the California Environmental Quality Act, public resources code section 21000 et seq., and that approved a general plan amendment, zoning ordinance text and map amendment, specific plan, specific plan master plan of development, tree removal permits and vesting tentative parcel maps for the Del Rio Road Commercial Area Special Plan.

“Save Atascadero had no alternative but to seek relief in court,” Save Atascadero spokesman Tom Comar wrote in a press release issued Wednesday. “Neither the Atascadero Planning Commission, with the exception of one member, nor the city council did their ‘due diligence’ in assessing, deliberating, and ensuring that CEQA standards were met by the state-mandated environmental impact report before approving the project.”

Comar went on to write that city staff, the planning commission and city council “failed” the citizens of Atascadero by “willfully ignoring the testimony of experts and informed citizens, that highlighted insufficiencies, inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the EIR data and the lack of pertinent data.”

“For both pro and anti-Walmart supporters, rest assured if or when the project comes, we want it to be the best project, the most environmentally mitigated project that is feasible to meet CEQA standards or even to exceed those standards,” Comar wrote.

Engineering Development Associates, Inc., Montecito Bank & Trust, Omni Design Group, Inc., The Rottman Group, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and Does I through XXV are listed as real parties in interest.

Pierik said the process would include preparing an administrative record, certified by the city clerk and filed by the court.

Then, Pierik said that the attorneys for the real parties of interest and the respondent (the city of Atascadero) will each have the opportunity to respond to the petitioner’s brief. Then a hearing would be set.

He said how long it takes would depend on how long it takes to prepare an administrative record and what the brief schedule would be.

“This legal challenge is technical and will be fought out in the court room through the testimony of experts, not in the press or letters to the editor,” Comar wrote.

This story was originally published in the Atascadero News on Aug. 21, 2012.

Las Lomas Village gets restarted

ATASCADERO — Atascadero residents Mike Zappas and Gaylen Little have broken ground on a 100-unit apartment complex in the Las Lomas Village in south Atascadero.

They purchased 5.85 acres of land on San Dimas Lane in Las Lomas Village in south Atascadero earlier this year. The land, previously owned by Hertel & Sons, has been abandoned for five years. In those five years, Zappas said he spent time looking up the owner of record and writing letters of inquiry. He said he did not receive any response. Time went on and one day he got a call from a Realtor in Santa Maria asking if he wanted to buy the property. After a little negioation, Zappas and Little came out the owners of the property and have been working on getting the project restarted.

The former owners had graded the property but hadn’t started to build before it was abandoned.

Zappas and Little built Hidden Oaks Village 10 years ago, and because of the increase of people living in Atascadero, he said it was time to build another apartment complex. Zappas said the city’s population has increased 8,000 in the last 10 years, but no apartment complexes have been built.

The partners will keep the site plans close to what they inherited, but changed the apartment sizes from nearly all two bedrooms to include a mix of one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments.

“All of the major apartment complexes … are all two bedrooms,” Zappas said. “Good people come in lots of income levels, with lots of needs, different needs. When we saw that the plans we inherited had nearly all two-bedrooms, we said we need a change.”

So the pair spent $200,000 to redo the plans.

There will be three different floor plants ranging in size from 756 square feet for a one-bedroom, to 920 to 984 square feet for a two-bedroom, and 1,136 square feet for a three-bedroom apartment.

The complex will be built with a Spanish revival architectural style.

Twenty of 100 units will be designated as affordable housing. Two of those will be restricted to those who have very low income. Eight are for moderate-income.

The complex will be completed in three phases. There will be a total of 10 buildings with 10 units in each. The first phase contains four buildings, which Zappas said should be completed in eight months.

The site overlooks Paloma Creek Park and is adjecuent to open space that includes hiking and biking trails. There are 57 acres of shared open space in the Las Lomas development.

“This is just such a beautiful site,” Zappas said and added that in all of the Las Lomas development, it is the most beautiful location.

One reason the long-time Atascadero residents decided to build another complex in the city is that their Hidden Oaks Village has a waiting list for people to get in. This new complex, they said, would have the same character and management style as Hidden Oaks. Additionally, he said that over time apartment complexes become obsolete if the owners/managers do not keep up items such as windows and insulation.

Little and Zappas have known each other for years being neighbors in Atascadero. Zappas said that in addition to living next to each other they ride bicycles together, and in 1999 they built their first project together in Santa Maria. They both own and manage property on their own, and manage Hidden Oaks together. Zappas said they will manage the new project as well.

Zappas is trained as a biologist, having earned a degree in biology from the University of California Santa Cruz. Little’s profession is as a plumbing/general contractor. He attended Cal Poly.

“We know Atascadero,” Zappas said. “We know it really well. People come up to us all the time asking if we have a place to rent.”

The pair, along with partners in the project such as the city of Atascadero, Coast Hills Federal Credit Union, Atascadero Mutual Water Company, Rea and Luker Architects, Thoma engineering, Above Grade Engineering and the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce,were at a groundbreaking on Wednesday.

For more information on Las Lomas Village, go to www.laslomasvillage.net.

This story was originally published on July 13, 2012, in the Atascadero News.

Walmart/Annex project gets unanimous go-ahead

ATASCADERO — The Atascadero City Council unanimously approved moving forward with the Walmart/Annex project Tuesday six years after Walmart bought the property at Del Rio Road and El Camino Real.

While many of the 60 speakers during public forum spoke in favor or against having a Walmart store in Atascadero, a good number spoke about traffic and fiscal impacts approving the project as presented by staff.

“To be fair to everyone, we need Walmart and the Annex to pay their fair share of the actual costs,” Atascadero resident Ron Rothman said, and his sentiments on the interchange improvements were echoed by many other speakers, including those who said they want a Walmart in Atascadero, but not at the cost to the city.

While the city will front the costs of the interchange, Frace said that the city expects to get a total of $4,887,394 when the project is built out. Walmart’s portion of that is $2,269,425.

The city will receive a $250,000 payment from Walmart when the entitlements are final, which Frace expects to be in late summer of this year. A payment of $600,000 is due at the time of grading, which is expected to happen within the next year. The balance is then due at the time that the building permit is issued. Frace said that could likely happen at the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014.

The city has $800,000 in traffic impact fees already in the bank that could be utilized for up-front costs. If needed, Frace said that the city could borrow $1.5 million from the wastewater fund, which has more than $10 million in it. The money would be paid back with interest using future traffic impact fees.

Atascadero resident Hardy Neilson, a Del Rio Road resident, said he’s for the project, but that all improvements should be done and operational before any store is opened in the project.

“Come on, people, are we that incompetent we can’t drive around while this stuff is going on?” Atascadero resident Jim Shannon said.

“No more delays, we need jobs, we need sales tax,” Atascadero resident Mike Anderson said.

Atascadero Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Linda Hendy also spoke in favor of the council approving the project because the chamber supports “all businesses in Atascadero. It will bring hundreds of jobs to our community.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re for or against Walmart, it’s a matter of being fiscally responsible,” Atascadero resident Randy Lawrence said. “I would certainly have Walmart fund the [interchange costs]. Please be fiscally responsible.”

Several former Atascadero mayors spoke on the project.

“I believe the [benefits] far outweigh the risk,” former Atascadero mayor Ray Johnson said.

Former mayor Mike Brennler said that the interchange mitigations need to be in place before Walmart opens.

“Council members, we need to move forward with this project,” former Atascadero mayor Bob Wilkins said. “Could this have helped DeCou Lumber? Quite possibly. Let’s not lose our current investment of seven years.”

The council approved all 12 motions as recommended by staff one at a time. After staff and applicant presentations, a few short questions were asked of staff. There were also only a couple of questions after the public comment period was closed. There was no discussion between the council before motions were made.

At buildout, it is expected that the entire project will increase the city’s net revenues by $530,000 per year. Frace added that the number includes every proposed building in the project being complete and operational.

To get started on the interchange improvements, the city submitted the project initiation form to Caltrans on Thursday. Public Works Director Russ Thompson said that it’ll take at least a year to get through the design and environmental reviews processes.

“It’s so nice to finally have an approved project,” Thompson said.

The project was recommended for approval by the Atascadero Planning Commission in a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Len Colamarino dissented, Commissioner Beth Wingett was absent and Commissioner Christian Cooper recused himself because he signed a card in support of Walmart.

The Rottman Group first approached the city in early 2005 after it assembled parcels on three corners of the intersection. Walmart bought the 26 acres it owns from the Rottman Group in mid-2006.

The property owned by the Rottman Group on the northeast corner of the intersection was put up for auction earlier this year and purchased by Montecito Bank & Trust. While the bank is going forward as the applicant on the Annex portion of the development, along with the Rottman Group, which still retains a small lot across El Camino Real from the main Annex development, the bank will not develop the site, but will rather sell the property to developers.

The approved Walmart store will be 129,000 square feet with outlots for future businesses to be built.

The second reading of the project will be on the Tuesday, July 10 city council meeting under the consent calendar. All items on the consent calendar are approved in one motion, although city staff, council members and members or the public have the option to pull items off the consent calendar for discussion.

This story was originally published in the Atascadero News on June 29, 2012.