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A 113-acre site at the northwest corner of Betteravia Road and Highway 101 is the target of developers whose plans for it include retail, automobile dealerships, a park and residential apartments.

Santa Maria's Planning Commission will consider several amendments and a development agreement that would pave the way for NKT Commercial and other interested parties to take over the site — referred to as the Enos Ranchos development — at tonight's meeting.

"In many ways, the site represents the 'front door' for the city, where visitors to the city will enter to shop at the new retail stores in the Enos Ranchos development, the existing Crossroads Center, the automobile dealers and other retail stores further down Betteravia Road near Target," according to a report by Planning Division Manager Peter Gilli.

If the development deal is approved, NKT Commercial would purchase a majority of the 113.4 acres, but 26 acres would be set aside for purchase by a group of local auto dealers.

Several potential developments have been proposed for the project site in the past, though none have progressed far enough to receive city approval, according to officials. The city hopes to maximize revenue-generating uses on the project site. 

The project has also been discussed as a means by which to improve the looks of Santa Maria, with proposed canopy trees lining the streets, a walkable design and quality architecture being emphasized.

"Focusing solely on the fiscal aspects of the project would be overlooking a major opportunity to improve the city's image to the entire region," Gilli's report said. "A common theme from City Council and the Planning Commission over the past few years has been the need to improve community aesthetics, including abundant landscaping in new development as well as upgrade the quality and appearance of the city's primary commercial streets."

Environmental concerns for the project site have included loss of prime farmland and blocking of views of the hills among others, but suggestions to reduce impacts from construction and development have been suggested and supported by city staff, such as requiring a vehicle-miles-traveled reduction plan. 

A freeway tower is also included in the plans, similar to the existing Gateway Center and Crossroads towers in the area. Along with retail space and other commercial and residential uses, a suggested elementary school would take up 10 acres near College Drive. A pedestrian and bike trail also is in the works.

Currently, the site is home to an abandoned farmhouse and a pumpkin patch but is otherwise used for farming. City staff say the Recreation and Parks Department is investigating the feasibility of relocating the abandoned farmhouse to the proposed park and renovating it as a community building.

Following the Planning Commission's review and recommendation on General Plan and zoning map amendments for the project, as well as a Specific Plan amendment and final supplemental environmental impact report, the City Council will hold a public hearing to review the commission's recommendation. 

The Planning Commission will meet at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall.

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Abby Hamblin covers city government in Santa Maria and Guadalupe for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow her on Twitter: @AbbyHamblin.

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