Despite concerns from representatives of the Santa Maria Valley Railroad, the Santa Maria City Council voted Tuesday to approve a proposed development of 30 apartments in the southwest portion of the city.

The project, which is being developed by Gustavo Alvarez, would be built on a 2.1-acre lot and include a mix of one- and two-story buildings.

The project site is located in the 800 block of Oakley Court, at the end of a cul-de-sac. Each of the tenant units would include two bedrooms and one bathroom, measuring around 790 square feet.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted 3-2 to approve the project. Mayor Alice Patino and Councilwoman Etta Waterfield voted no, citing the potential impact the project could have on the Santa Maria Valley Railroad, which has tracks that run alongside the development.

As part of its approval, the City Council also approved a general plan zone change for the project site from general manufacturing to high-density residential.

Rob Himoto, president of the Santa Maria Valley Railroad, asked the commission not to approve the project, saying it could impact the operations of the railroad.

The railroad’s business is growing and a residential project near the development could lead to tenant complaints about the sound from train engines and horns, Himoto said.

“We need as much industrial land as possible,” he said. “I ask the developers and the Planning Commission, ‘What do we do? You keep taking industrial land away from us.’”

Senior Planner Frank Albro said a sound study analyzing the sound of the train was completed and determined that the project conformed to both state and local regulations.

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As part of efforts to mitigate noise, an 8-foot masonry wall will be required to be built along the railroad tracks.

Santa Maria City Councilwoman Gloria Soto said she was in support of the project, noting that other multi- and single-family residential developments were already in the area and were not negatively impacted by the railroad’s operations.

“During the election, while I was door-knocking and canvassing, I spoke to almost all of the residents on that street,” she said. “When I asked them what their concerns were, it was always, ‘We need more housing. Not once did they complain about the railroad.’”

Councilwoman Etta Waterfield said she feared the project could negatively impact the railroad’s ability to grow its business.

“My fear is that a few years down the road Santa Maria is going to look different and people living in those residences are going to complain to City Council,” she said. “And City Council is going to hear those residents and not listen to the railroad — that is my biggest fear.”

Councilman Michael Moats said he didn’t see the development as a threat to the railroad.

“I think the railroad is going to do what the railroad does,” he said. “I think all of the risk here is borne by the applicants to do this project. They’re the ones that are going to own the property and have renters that decide they don’t want to be there and move out. So I think if the applicants want to bear that risk, they should be able to.”

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed


City Government

Razi Syed covers city government for the Santa Maria Times. He is a graduate of Fresno State University and New York University.