A Santa Maria mixed-use project sidelined by the economic slump is about to get under way again, this time with changes that one council member hailed as a “Santa Maria-style” improvement.
The City Council on Tuesday held a public hearing and unanimously approved changes to the tentative tract map and planned development permit for the stalled Celebration project on Miller Street between Inger Drive and Daniel Street.
The revised project, dubbed Celebration 2, sits on 3.3 acres of the 6½-acre development originally approved in 2005. That project called for two-story condos with office space on the lower level and residences on the top floor. In all, the project included 42 single-family residences, 36 townhouses with 15 live-work units and 24 office units.
The new proposal for the east side of the site will have 11 single-family residences — about 1,500 square feet apiece — along Miller Street, plus medical office buildings on each corner.
“With the former mixed-use project, you had all your mixed use in individual buildings,” explained planning consultant Frances Romero, who represents project applicant Eric Taylor. “With this particular (design) we tried to honor the intent of mixed use while breaking the buildings apart from having it be a vertical component to more of a horizontal component.”
“I love the horizontal mixed use,” Councilman Jack Boysen said. “I think for Santa Maria, that’s Santa Maria-style mixed use.”
During the project’s first phase, some structures were built on the south side of the site, which has decorative street lights, sidewalks, shelters for trash bins and private streets. But weeds and wildflowers fill most of the land since the project has been in limbo for years due to the economic slump and soft market for real estate sales.
The revisions occurred after consultations with city planning staff, Romero told the council.
“We believe we have a project we are proud of, and that the community will be proud of, because it will look much better than the current vacant lot that we’ve all come to be annoyed by every time we drive by it,” Romero added.
“I believe that the homes along Miller will be a nice change in keeping with the mixed-used concept of having porches toward the streets, not having the block walls, and having a nice architectural treatment there.”
Councilwoman Terri Zuniga noted that Miller “obviously is a very busy street” and asked about having homes facing that heavily traveled roadway.
“I’m wondering what the amenities might be that will create the sense of neighborhood (for residents of the homes),” she said. “They’re beautiful and, you’re right, driving by that vacant lot just makes you want to pull your hair out.
“Having the residences face the street, are there amenities that are going to create a community atmosphere there?”
Celebration was one of the first developments approved under Santa Maria’s mixed-use regulations, which were designed to reduce urban sprawl and slash the number of commuters by allowing people to live where they work.
But the previous owner declared bankruptcy and Taylor, who lives in Camarillo, acquired the project with Los Angeles-based partners more than two years ago. With infrastructure in place, the new design needed to accommodate the existing facilities.
One key reason for the redesigned project is that banks won’t lend money for mixed-used developments, Romero said after the council meeting.
“Mixed use didn’t seem to be, in the old form I’ll say, in favor throughout the land, economic times or whatever,” Councilman Bob Orach said. “It does seem that this is a little more logical, and more accessible.”
Neda Zayer, a city planner, said the previous developer said the project was hard to market as it was originally designed.
“It just wasn’t a feasible project for them,” she said Thursday.
The homes would face Miller Street plus have small backyards and detached garages. Three architectural styles — Spanish Colonial, Mediterranean and Craftsman — are planned.
The 10,771-square-foot office building near Inger would have an outdoor plaza. The other, at 7,000 square feet and near Daniel, would have offices above some ground-level parking.
Romero said the market will determine whether the houses or the office buildings are completed first.
“I think it’s a beautiful project,” said Zuniga, noting it’s not a traditional mixed-use development.
She said she supports the redesign for the location, but added she wouldn’t back that type of mixed-use development in the downtown area.
The project’s redesign drew mixed reaction from a representative of the homeowner’s association.
“We wholeheartedly support the initiation to actually finally get this project in motion and bring this community online,” said Freddie Smith, a Celebration resident and a board member for the homeowner’s association. “However, we do have two objections.”
Members of the existing homeowner’s association worry they will be liable if the public uses a small park and other open space area near the bus stop. They also don’t think the homeowners should have to fund the park used by the public.
“It isn’t right, it isn’t fair for us to support an area that’s being used by the community,” Smith said.
Romero said the plaza near the bus stop would be maintained by the owners of that medical building, not the homeowner’s association. City planning staff and developers agreed to some level of fencing to discourage pedestrians not connected with the medical building from using the plaza.
The plaza would include seating, decorative paving and bicycle racks.
Community Development director Larry Appel said the city’s planning rules require a certain amount of open space on a project. With the redesign, city staff still sought some open space to enhance the development, which is why the plaza was added.
The park actually is a flood-control basin that also meets open space requirements, officials added. There aren’t any plans for formal recreational uses at the basin.
Boysen said he asked the applicant to consider providing a small park, especially because of the large influx of children at the Rancho Hermosa low-income development in the 200 block of East Inger Drive. He expressed disappointment it wasn’t addressed in the plan.
“As we go forward with the next phase of Celebration, if there is something that we can do for a public facility for some sort of community activity in that area, it would certainly be beneficial to the neighborhood as a whole,” he said.