ATASCADERO — The Atascadero Planning Commission recommended approval of the Walmart/Annex project at its June 5 meeting. On Tuesday, June 26, the council will have its opportunity to discuss the issue and consider 12 different parts of the project.
While many people said they support having a Walmart in Atascadero, others addressed concerns or questions they had on the environmental impact report.
Most of those concerns and questions were centered on traffic mitigations.
Community Development Director Warren Frace said that staff estimates that improvements for the Del Rio Road interchange will cost $4.5 million. That figure, he said, includes improving the entire interchange and installing roundabouts, which are a cheaper alternative over widening the bridge. If roundabouts are not installed, the bridge over Highway 101 would have to be widened to include a center turn lane.
Frace said that roundabouts would work without having to widen the bridge.
Although the city has not yet submitted the paperwork to get Caltrans approval, Frace said he is comfortable that Caltrans will approve the roundabouts.
“[If not approved], we’d have to come up with an alternate design, but we don’t see Caltrans not approving the roundabouts,” Frace said.
He added that Caltrans seems very supportive of roundabouts.
“Caltrans understands it is the best solution,” Frace said.
For traffic mitigation fees, Walmart will pay a special interchange fee of $1,159,923, plus the standard traffic impact fee of $1,443,414. It will receive $333,912 in street improvement credits for work it will do off-site. The total traffic impact fees from Walmart total $2,269,425.
For the Annex component and Walmart outlots, the special interchange fee is $1,228,176 and the stand traffic impact fee is $1,422,342. It will receive $32,529 for off-site improvements. The Annex’s total traffic impact fees total $2,617,969.
The fees from both projects total $4,887,394, which Frace said includes a 30 percent contingency. He added that Walmart agreed to pay up to $200,000 for any overrun costs. Frace said that adds an additional 15 percent contingency.
“Costs matter, because we have to know how much the taxpayer will be hit for,” Atascadero resident Ron Rothman said.
Rothman expressed concern that Walmart will pay its proportional share of the estimated cost, but not have to pay anything additional even if costs go up.
Frace said that Walmart’s proportional share of the interchange is 28.7 percent and the Annex’s is 24.3 percent.
Rothman said his concern is that Caltrans could reject the roundabouts, and require that the bridge be widened, which the final EIR reported could cost between $8 million and $11 million.
“At this point we’re not sure what the interchange improvements will be,” Rothman said.
Frace said that once the council approves the project, staff will submit an application to Caltrans to install roundabouts. He said it’ll take about a year to get approval.
Rothman said he is concerned that Caltrans will not approve the roundabouts because they haven’t looked into it and have not agreed to it.
On Feb. 11, 2011, Caltrans District 4 employee Chris Schaeffer wrote, “just to ensure that we’re on the same page, although the roundabouts are on the table, there is no guarantee yet, implied or otherwise, that this is THE solution. It’s an alternative, likely the preferred alternative for the applicant/city. But Caltrans has yet to really look at the details beyond the concepts.”
Frace said he is sure that Caltrans will approve the roundabouts.
“Caltrans seems very supportive of roundabouts,” Frace said. “Caltrans understands it is the best solution.”
While the city will pay for costs associated with the interchange upfront, it 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.
Another issue Rothman brought up was the timing of interchange in relationship to when Walmart and the other components will be allowed to open.
In the original draft EIR, Frace said, because Walmart and the Annex were considered one project, no occupancy would be allowed until the interchange was completed. When the draft EIR was recalculated, it looked at a Walmart-only alternative.
Since then, it has been determined that Walmart could open before the interchange is complete, but all other buildings could not get a final permit for occupancy until the interchange is complete.
“The Annex can’t start any building until after the interchange is complete,” Frace said.
Rothman said he is worried about the impacts the additional Walmart traffic would have on neighboring interchanges.
Frace said it has been determined that the additional traffic won’t negatively affect those interchanges.
The Atascadero City Council meeting will begin at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, June 27 at Atascadero City Hall, 6907 El Camino Real. To read the entire staff report, go to www.atascadero.org.
The meeting will be shown live on the city’s website and on Charter Cable Channel 20 and will be aired live on KPRL AM1230.
For the complete article see the 06-22-2012 issue.
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