After addressing concerns about parking and traffic flow, the Santa Maria Planning Commission approved a permit for the 160-unit Centennial Gardens affordable housing complex on a vacant lot between West Battles Road and South Depot Street.
The proposed housing project was introduced to the commission in September, where developers were instructed to make changes to the Battles Road entrance before the project was unanimously approved Wednesday.
"No project is perfect, but the fact that this has gone through a couple of iterations, I think, is evidence that we're trying to make it better and we’re trying to address the concerns as best as we can," Commissioner Esau Blanco said.
Along with 160 units spread throughout eight three-story buildings, the Centennial Gardens complex will include a 2,500-square-foot community center, large grass fields, a picnic area, a playground for all ages and a splash pad for water play.
The 8.36-acre area is the last of four residential projects to be developed in the Blosser Southeast Specific Plans' 5A subdivision. Nearby, the St. Claire Apartments and two areas of the Rose Garden Estates at Pacific Crest, which contain single-family homes, already have been completed.
One of the main concerns regarding the project has been parking, due to the high density of neighboring complexes and high traffic on Battles Road.
Developers are planning to provide two onsite parking spaces for each unit, plus 10 guests spots, for 330 total parking spaces onsite. However, some residents have expressed worry that the increased parking and chaos that occurred as a result of the St. Claire project would happen again with Centennial Gardens.
"Over the past two years we have experienced a huge increase in parking and related issues on Biscayne Street, including trash, drug use, fighting and loud noise stemming from the increase in tenants at St. Claire," said Don Spagnolo, homeowners association president at nearby Pacific Crest Estates.
City staff acknowledged the possibility for increased street parking but clarified that onsite parking will be regulated to ensure that it is reserved for resident use.
"Yes, there may be additional parking, but those are public streets, and they were built to accommodate parking and traffic," Senior Planner Frank Albro said.
Similar concerns also were voiced about increased traffic onto Battles Road as a result of residents exiting and entering the complex near the Santa Maria Valley Railroad.
To allow for safer turns onto Battles Road, the layout was redesigned to move the driveway farther west, and an additional driveway was added on the south side of the property along Provance Avenue.
Commissioners clarified that while the project is considered affordable high-density housing, units will be reserved for both median- and low-income tenants in the working class.
In addition, due to the differences in housing prices between northern and southern Santa Barbara County, housing that is considered market rate in Santa Maria could be considered low-income housing in an area like Santa Barbara, which can create confusion, Albro said.
"A lot of our professional and blue collar workers in the city are moderate-income and low-income, and this housing is for those individuals," he said.
The applicant, Southport Financial Services Inc., plans to divide construction into two phases, beginning with the construction of buildings 1 through 4 and connected parking, the community building and site amenities in phase 1.
In the second phase, the construction of buildings 5 through 8 and connected parking structures will be completed.
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