After deliberation and an approval that took several hours at a Santa Maria Planning Commission meeting earlier this month, the development project planned for the land at the corner of Betteravia Road and Highway 101 will face the City Council on Tuesday.
The council will consider city staff's recommendation to approve a package of resolutions and ordinances that would get the approximately 115-acre project, which officials have called the "front door" to the city, up and running.
Plans by developers, led by NKT Commercial of San Luis Obispo, include retail spaces, automobile dealerships, a park and residential apartments.
City staff favor the project not only for the financial benefits but also as an opportunity to improve the image of the city through quality architecture and landscaping.
"This is a very significant decision in finding the recipe for balance," Commissioner Gayle Pratt said at the Feb. 17 meeting.
The Planning Commission's lengthy discussion on what is referred to as "Enos Ranchos" stemmed from more than a dozen requested changes to the Enos Ranchos Specific Plan by Urban Planning Concepts, a planning consultant representing the developers.
Many of the issues had to do with the size and type of landscaping city regulations require, which stores and auto dealers worry would block views of signs or the actual vehicle inventory.
For example, the auto dealers planning to purchase part of the acreage take issue with the requirement of canopy street trees, for reasons city staff have recognized to be a desire to fit in with corporate identity, the impact they would have on visibility and the ability to attract new dealerships to the site.
Four commissioners — Chairwoman Maribel Aguilera-Hernandez did not participate due to a potential conflict of interest — were split in a 2-2 vote to determine whether the dealers should have to stick to the requirements of the specific plan or allow the design theme to be prioritized.
The specific plan issues will be considered by the council Tuesday, among other factors like environmental impacts.
Loss of farmland, loss of views of the hills to the east, air-quality impacts from vehicles traveling to and from the development, greenhouse gas emissions and traffic have all been raised as environmental concerns.
Although the Planning Commission OK'd the project, it was seen as a test for future city development and city leaders' ability to balance a desire to improve aesthetics with financial needs.
"I think it is the right direction for Santa Maria, and ultimately, if we want our city to be a more beautiful place ... we have to start making the decisions," Commissioner Robert Dickerson said.
The council will meet at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall Council Chambers, 110 E. Cook St.
Abby Hamblin covers city government in Santa Maria and Guadalupe for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow her on Twitter: @AbbyHamblin.