Hi-Way Drive-In 2021

“No Time To Die,” the latest installment in the James Bond movie series, is visible during a recent screening at the Hi-Way Drive-In Movie theater from homes on McCloud Street and Caselli Way in Santa Maria.

The Santa Maria Planning Commission once again will consider whether to approve zoning and plan changes for the site of the beloved Hi-Way Drive-In Movie Theater on Wednesday after delaying discussions last month.

On Oct. 6, the commission reviewed and ultimately delayed any action regarding the proposal from local nonprofit People's Self-Help Housing to rezone the 8.9-acre site, which has been up for sale since 2019 amid decreasing financial viability, as a residential rather than commercial area.

The nonprofit plans to buy the property and construct around 50 low-income, single-family homes to meet the city's ongoing housing need, with the current owners of the site expressing support for the project.

Despite the lack of other proposals for the site, the three present commissioners opted to delay any decisions until the issue could be heard by the entire five-person commission. Commission Chair Robert Dickerson also stated his hopes that the community could come up with a way to preserve the drive-in in some fashion.

The proposed project has faced an onslaught of nostalgic residents eager to preserve the historic drive-in, as well as those generally opposed to the creation of low-income housing in the existing neighborhood.

In the "Save the Santa Maria Drive-In" Facebook group, created after the property went up for sale in 2019, the over 3,000 members have floated ideas ranging from designating the area as a historic site to raising the $3.3 million to buy the land themselves. 

Last week, page organizer Christopher Weddle, who also spoke at October's commission meeting, advised the community to shift tactics and either encourage the city to purchase the property or accept the proposed housing project and support People's Self-Help Housing.

"Saying goodbye to the drive-in is heartbreaking for so many of us, but at some point, we need to accept the loss and move forward with the best options out there for our community and our neighboring housing," Weddle stated in a post.

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Steve Reith, a co-listing agent for the drive-in property from Lee & Associates, stated in a comment that will be submitted during Wednesday's meeting that it was difficult to watch the commission deny the recommended changes last month.

The city's need for affordable housing is high, and no one has expressed interest over the past two years in maintaining the site in its current form, he pointed out.

"The city cannot mandate that the owners stay in business and continue to operate a failed business model. If the commissioners actually feel this is [the] best use, then they should recommend that the city step up and buy the asset and reap the profits from the venture themselves," Reith said. 

People's Self-Help Housing would also need to receive approval of a planned development permit from the commission and City Council before kicking off the construction of the proposed low-income housing project. 

Other Planning Commission business on Wednesday will include consideration of a planned development permit for a drive-through Starbucks location at 1201 E. Main St., which also was continued after first being presented in October. 

Cadence Acquisition LLC proposes demolishing the current three-tenant building containing a Starbucks, Subway and Al Pho and replacing it with a 1,500-square-foot Starbucks with a drive-through and patio. 

The Planning Commission will meet in person at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the City Council chambers. Residents are also invited to participate via Zoom or view a livestream on the city's YouTube page

The City Council chambers are inside City Hall at 110 E. Cook St.

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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