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Chinatown plan shrinks 

The Copeland family submitted a scaled-back version of the multi-use development project known as Chinatown to the city of San Luis Obispo on Sept. 19. The revised plan cuts the scope of the project by almost 25 percent.

The more modest version of the project came just three weeks after a letter from the city, addressed to Tom Copland, suggested that the project might not make it to permitting by May 2008 the last date for the Copelands to purchase about 67,000 square feet of city property for the $3,038,464 price tag negotiated in 2000. If the price is reappraised at current values, the price is likely to soar.

The letter warns that a timeline proposed for review and permitting was ambitious but not impossible under normal circumstances. However, it notes, Chinatown was proposed at a scope that far exceeded routine. The city advised that meeting requirements for the new height ordinance alone could delay processing.

The new plan avoids many of those concerns.

Mark Rawson, spokesman and architect for the Chinatown project, said the new draft was an attempt to address concerns raised by the public, the Cultural Heritage Committee, the Architectural Review Committee, the City Council, and other city agencies. It was not, he said, in response to the letter.

"It has nothing to do with that," Rawson said. "The proposed refinements to the project are the result of input that's been gathered through the regulatory and review process."

Chinatown has garnered criticism from citizens who regularly took the soapbox at City Council meetings for its scale (proposed buildings were more than 75 feet above grade) and a design considered incongruous with surrounding architecture. Additionally, the project called for the removal of several buildings located in the historic district.

The new draft still eliminates the old Pier 1 building, the Cornerstone building, and the former home of Bello's all considered historic buildings, though not historic enough for preservation. The new version also addresses view concerns: All of the proposed buildings are shorter than 50 feet, thus not subject to any requirements outlined in the new downtown height ordinance.

Chinatown is to be the third and final phase of a transaction between the city and Copelands, which included the Court Street project, new city offices on Morro Street, and the parking structure on Palm.

If the city-owned property isn't sold by May 2008, the city can renegotiate a price that reflects today's market, and Copeland can opt not to buy.

Rollie McCormick, a local independent appraiser, said it would be difficult to give an exact estimate for how much land prices downtown have increased over that period, but "certainly the increase would be substantial."


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