Proposed apartment complex goes to City Council

Santa Maria hoping to lure young professionals
2013-05-20T00:20:00Z Proposed apartment complex goes to City CouncilNiki Cervantes / Santa Maria Times

A proposed 262-unit upscale apartment complex for downtown is headed to the Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday as the city continues its quest to revitalize its struggling core.

Designed with art deco flourishes, Hancock Terrace Apartments is part of an effort to lure young professionals, and possibly college students, to downtown. The project was approved unanimously by the city’s Planning Commission last month.

The $40 million project is the subject of a public hearing during the council’s regular 6:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday at City Hall, 110 E. Cook St.

Proposed by the Towbes Group, the project would include four apartment buildings and a 3,515-square-foot community center — gym and Jacuzzis included — on the 9.5-acre parcel. The property is in the downtown specific plan’s Railroad Loft zoning district, which recommends mixed-use developments that combine retail stores at ground level with residences above.

The council itself has already taken a preliminary look at the project, which Towbes officials say will be a shot in the arm for the city’s troubled downtown. Council members have expressed concern in the past about the lack of mixed use in the project, but Towbes officials have said such a model is not economically feasible.

Also on Tuesday’s agenda is a controversial proposal to build a Fallas Discount Store on the long-vacant Mervyn’s site downtown. However, the city attorney’s office has asked for a continuance to June 18 to provide more time for research.

Council reaction to the Fallas project indicates a fight is looming.

“Not what I want here,” said Mayor Alice Patino, who visited one of the stores in Bakersfield last month and was not pleased. “It’s not what people want in downtown Santa Maria.”

 Councilman Bob Orach visited the same store.

“Frankly, I was disappointed,” he said. “I expected a department store. It’s a thrift store. I’m not inclined to be really supportive.”

Their comments echo those of some members of the city Planning Commission, which narrowly voted to recommend Fallas to the council last month. Critics at the time said visits to stores throughout California showed some were poorly kept and an eyesore. Orach described the Bakersfield store as “disheveled.”

But Councilman Jack Boysen said indications are that Fallas will cooperate with any conditions the city might impose on it to address council concerns.

“We need to make sure there are proper conditions on the property,” Boysen said.

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