By this time next year, a large empty field off South Blosser Road in Santa Maria will become a 193-unit senior housing community complete with a pool and spa, clubhouse, yoga studio and dog park.

The project -- Villa del Sol Senior Apartments -- officially kicked off with a ceremony at the site Thursday morning. City and community leaders joined the project’s developer and manager, the Towbes Group, to celebrate construction’s start.

Many in attendance seemed excited that another senior housing option is coming to Santa Maria, but the event was a bittersweet one for the Towbes Group.

Its founder, Michael Towbes, lost a short battle with pancreatic cancer last month. Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremony was the first since Towbes died.

“This is our first groundbreaking without Michael Towbes. It is with a little bit of a heavy heart that we are here this morning,” said Craig Zimmerman, Towbes Group president. “In truth, I think he loved it all. He loved touring the sites, building the sites, leasing them up, (and) he enjoyed going to the council meetings. He was very passionate about all of it.”

“Mike would always say that the only thing he liked more than a groundbreaking was a ribbon-cutting,” Zimmerman added.

Mayor Alice Patino was on hand to remember Towbes and celebrate the start of the Villa del Sol project’s construction.

“Michael Towbes means a lot to us in Santa Maria," Patino said. "You always knew when he did a project, it was going to be the best. He always did what he said he was going to do; you don’t find that quality in a lot of people."

Villa del Sol, when completed, will include studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments with private balconies and patios. The gated community will be pet-friendly and include community outdoor living space. Its residents will be 55 years old or older.

The 5.5-acre community is off South Blosser Road between Battles Road and La Brea Avenue. The community’s entrance will be on Battles Road.

“This is senior housing that is affordable to our local seniors. There is no buy-in. There is no long-term commitment," Zimmerman said. "We want to serve the senior segment of the population the way they deserve to be served."

Villa del Sol is the third large housing project Towbes Group has built in the city of Santa Maria. It soon will break ground on a fourth complex as part of the Enos Ranchos project.

“Our vision for the community is a wide array of housing choices. So that people can choose where they want to live, how they want to live. Do they want to buy? Do they want to rent? We think it is very important that we continue Mike’s legacy of offering those housing choices to the local community,” Zimmerman said.

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Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.