Monday, July 16 , 2018, 11:09 pm | Fair 66º


Local News

Santa Maria Airport Business Park Plan Ready for Takeoff Again

District hires real estate broker for revised project that calls for light industry and office space, but drops golf course proposed for south of airfield

Chris Hastert, general manager of the Santa Maria Public Airport, says momentum is growing for the revived efforts to develop a business park on about 224 acres of a 740-acre parcel south of the airfield. Click to view larger
Chris Hastert, general manager of the Santa Maria Public Airport, says momentum is growing for the revived efforts to develop a business park on about 224 acres of a 740-acre parcel south of the airfield. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Maria Public Airport has revved up efforts to develop a long-planned business park — revised several times and stalled for assorted reasons since first being proposed in the late 1980s.

Airport officials hired commercial real estate broker Tom Ross in mid-October and are nearing a deal with federal and state officials regarding environmental aspects related to endangered species, including the California tiger salamander.

“We expect to have that pretty quickly so we wanted to bring on a real estate broker to start working on some leads and identify different developers that were interested,” Chris Hastert, airport general manager, told Noozhawk.

“Really, the message we’re trying to put out there by hiring Tom and putting all the signs out there is we’re open for business now, because the holdup isn’t going to be the salamander any more,” he added. “Now, it’s going to be the permitting process, developing plans with an architect, getting them approved by the city and all of that.”

The business park — a mixture of light industry, commercial, professional office and community facility uses — is planned for 224 acres, generally south of the airfield on now vacant land. In all, the project encompasses 740 acres, with much of that open space.

The project is proposed for a small strip of land near Highway 135 and Skyway Drive, plus a larger area between Foster Road and Union Valley Parkway, extending to Blosser Road. A small piece is west of Blosser Road.

The Santa Maria City Council already approved the business park-specific plan in 2008. Once the environmental approvals are in hand, the tentative tract maps can be recorded.

“That definitely puts us ahead for being able to get things developed quicker,” Hastert said.

So why now?

Renewed interest from different developers amid an improved economy provided the perfect timing for reviving the dormant development plan, he said.

Airport officials, more accustomed to dealing with airplane-related leases and aviation matters, solicited a real estate broker to handle negotiations involving commercial property development.

“We really quickly learned it’s a pretty competitive market,” Hastert said.

Early this year, airport district officials hope to secure from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish & Wildlife ​the environmental permissions necessary to develop land that may be home to the California tiger salamander and other species.

The amphibians, which are considered endangered in Santa Barbara County, are up to 8 inches long, are black with white or yellow bars, and have rounded snouts. They typically live underground, but vernal pools, or ponds, are critical for breeding.

The deal will require the district to reserve a large section of land west of Blosser Road for species habitat along with open space area within the business park. Additionally, the district will be required to remove concrete pads and a few trees to enhance the habitat.

“Primarily, it’s several hundred acres of habitat that we’ll be reserving,” Hastert said. “I don’t have that final number yet; it’s changed quite a bit because of the golf course so it’s quite a bit less than what we would have had before.”

A longtime business park feature, a planned golf course has been eliminated and the land instead will remain open space, easing some of the problematic environmental challenges created by the links.

Airport officials discovered that to turn 45 acres into a golf course would require giving up another 112 acres to set aside for the federally protected species, according to Hastert.

“It just really isn’t economically feasible for the golf course,” he said.

Since the project’s first iteration, the Central Coast has seen at least one other golf course enter the market, raising doubt about whether the airport’s could be profitable.

Previous plans to complete the project in multiple phases over 50 years have been abandoned. Airport officials now intend to dedicate the land for the environmental mitigation at the start to give flexibility for developing the phases as the demand exists.

While the city approved this variant of the project in 2008, another version was first approved in 1995. Neighbor opposition, environmental issues, a sluggish economy and other matters led to revisions and delays for the project in the past.

“We have a lot of momentum going right now” Hastert said.

In December 2013, airport district board president Chuck Adams made it his goal to get the environmental process finished before his term expired. With the process ongoing, the special district’s board took the rare step last month to name Adams to lead the board another year — “just because he is so dedicated to trying to get this project wrapped up and he wanted to see it through,” Hastert said.

The project will bring income to the airport — instead of selling the land, it will be handled through long-term leases — along with jobs to the Santa Maria Valley, Adams noted.

“It’s good for the whole city,” he said. “It can be a really strong economic base for Santa Maria itself. That’s what my main focus is on it.

“There’s a lot of positives to this,” he added.

In Adams’ six years on the board, the business park development hasn’t been this close to reality.

“We’re trying to get open for business,” he added.

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.

This map shows the general layout for the planned Santa Maria Public Airport business park.
This map shows the general layout for the planned Santa Maria Public Airport business park.

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