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Downtown Santa Maria Project Stalled As Community Weighs In At Workshops

Parking concerns lead council to frown at four-story mixed-used building as sessions explore future for heart of city

Residents vote with red and green dots to show the streetscape features they want to see in downtown Santa Maria during a meeting Tuesday. Click to view larger
Residents vote with red and green dots to show the streetscape features they want to see in downtown Santa Maria during a meeting Tuesday.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Days after the City Council rejected a four-story building at a key corner in downtown Santa Maria due to a lack of parking, a pair of community workshops looked at ways to revitalize areas near Main Street and Broadway.

The already-scheduled workshops were held after the City Council declined to approve a mixed use building proposed for a key site — the northwest corner of Main Street (Highway 166) and Broadway (Highway 135).

During the Oct. 17 meeting, the majority of members leaned toward rejection, and the council declined to act on the project. Instead, the council referred the project  back to the Community Development Department staff and the applicant to craft a solution to the parking shortage.

The proposal from Ben Nikfarjam called for commercial businesses on the first floor with apartments filling the top three levels for the four-story building. The site now houses a one-story empty building. 

However, the plan for the 0.3-acre site called for 12 parking spaces, fewer than the 38 required based upon the number of residences. Staff noted the parking available in nearby public lots.

“I think it just has too many negatives for me and they all center around parking,” Councilman Mike Cordero said. 

“This is a residential project at Main and Broadway I don’t think it belongs there,” he added, expressing concern about the lack of parking affecting other businesses in the area.

Councilman Jack Boysen disagreed, adding he strongly supported the project.

“This is a project that needs to happen in our downtown area. We need this project. We need to put the seed on the true gateway property right there at Broadway and Main,” Boysen said. 

He noted that younger generations don’t rely on owning vehicles, with many using walking, bicycles and ride-sharing apps for transportation needs.

The Planning Commission had previously recommended the council approve the project.

Residents look at options for downtown Santa Maria design elements. Click to view larger
Residents look at options for downtown Santa Maria design elements.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Architect Alex Cuevas said eliminating the retail portion of the building for parking would make the project financial infeasible. 

“This is different. I think we’re not looking outside of the box. This is a different kind of building,” Cuevas said.

“This is not a senior citizen apartment. This is for a new generation,” he added.

Community Development Director Chuen Ng said the project would not come to fruition if the city imposed the traditional parking requirements.

“The dimension of the site is a constraint,” he said, adding the site is small and location is considered critical for downtown revitalization.

“It’s a very unique situation,” he added.

City staff had viewed the four-story building on the key downtown corner as a likely catalyst for other activity in downtown Santa Maria.

On Monday and Tuesday the city hosted a pair of workshops regarding revitalizing downtown Santa Maria, where ideas called for making the area friendlier to pedestrians and creating a civic center gathering place.

Other ideas ranged from re-purposing the Town Center mall or creating a restaurant row.

Tuesday night’s workshop focused on ways to improve walkways, bicycle routes, crosswalks, sidewalks while calming traffic with two exercises letting attendees pick what they like for lighting, paving materials, arts, sidewalks, etc.. 

"We are really hoping this is a community driven design and it’s not just coming from us,” said Jeff Hosea, SERA Architects.

In addition to the workshops, the team of consultants took a walking tour of downtown Santa Maria and met with representatives at a coffee event.

A community survey also is planned during the annual Christmas Parade of Lights in December. 

The preferred streetscape alternatives will be prepared in December, with a streetscape mockup to be presented in February and the plan to be revealed in the spring. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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