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The Santa Maria City Council gave final clearance for the first two phases of a large housing development Tuesday, leading the way for an anticipated busy construction year.

“There’s going to be a lot of development happening this year,” Community Development Director Larry Appel told the council at the meeting. “We’re anticipating close to 1,200 building permits for residential units and that can only happen when the old projects that were stalled for a long time were moved forward. And generally, the last step of the process was to get the maps finalized as you did tonight.”

The 97-unit map the council approved is part of a six-phase project called Heritage at Westgate Ranch that includes an open space park on a 52.6-acre property near the intersection of Blosser and Battles roads. The company behind the project is MI Heritage LLC, based out of Pismo Beach.

Resident Walter Taylor spoke out against the project at the meeting, citing safety concerns about the site’s proximity to a produce storage facility being built nearby.

While Santa Maria has seen about double the expected building permits it anticipated this year, City Manager Rick Haydon said most of that was driven by large commercial projects such as an

Atlas Copco Mafi-Trench facility the city signed off on near the end of 2013. As a result, permits, licenses and fees are one of few bright spots in the city’s budget.

“That is the one area in which we’re going to be exceeding the annual projections,” Haydon said.

Residential building permits, however, still are lagging behind what they were about seven years ago.

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The council also approved a report from the Measure U 2012 Citizen’s Oversight Committee declaring that the city has spent the money the way it was intended to be. The quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in 2012 has been used mostly to fund fire and police services, Haydon said.

“The transparency of this is so important,” Councilmember Jack Boysen said at the meeting. “The public entrusted us at a time when very few tax measures were getting passed. They trusted us to do what we said we were going to do, to use this for essential services and primarily for keeping our community safe, and … the oversight committee has verified that for us.”

In other business, the City Council officially approved an ordinance that includes e-cigarettes, or vapes, in its definition of smoking, making it one of the first cities between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara to do so. The council voted for the measure at its first reading March 4.

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