A new Enos Ranch retail commercial center may finally take shape at the undeveloped 7.8-acre site at the northwest corner of Betteravia Road and South College Drive.
The Santa Maria Planning Commission is considering a new project proposal by Paynter Retail and Investments, Inc., which also developed the neighboring Enos Ranch East shopping center next to the project site, that involves a redesign of the already-approved development plan for the area, originally called the Enos Ranchos Mercado.
The city obtained a permit to develop the site back in 2012 under the Enos Ranchos Specific Plan, but construction has never started and the permit remains active.
At a Planning Commission meeting Wednesday, Paynter Retail Vice President of Development Jim Sanders presented a finalized plan for a retail commercial area, describing plans for a grocery store, two fast food drive-through restaurants with the possibility of a coffee shop, and four buildings housing retail tenants.
"Our vision for the project, which we are calling Enos Ranch Center West, is what is essentially a phase 2 of the Enos Ranch Center in all respects, whether it be architecture, lighting, parking, etc.," Sanders said.
The Wednesday presentation followed an initial review of the proposed project during a June 17 study session, where commissioners directed Sanders to revise areas of concern including traffic flow, grading and landscaping.
Commissioners, as well as residents in the project's adjacent residential area who provided comments at the meeting, had mixed reactions to the proposed development presented Wednesday.
Commissioner Robert Dickerson said the layout of the redesigned project was much less interesting and attractive than the original plan from 2012, which featured a more creative landscape, and that it did not present the same opportunities for plazas and more pleasant walking areas.
"It was supposed to be a little less utilitarian, and a little more pleasant to walk around in, because it abutted some residential things," Dickerson said.
Sanders argued that the straightforward layout fits specific needs of the potential retailers, and that there would still be the opportunity for areas to give the site the feel of a neighborhood area.
"What's before you is a traditional layout, yes, but it's a tried and true layout and it's based on market fundamentals for long-term success," Sanders said. "From the plaza and outdoor dining perspective, I promise you that’s going to happen. There’s no restaurant that doesn’t want outdoor dining."
Some residents whose homes line the western edge of the proposed site expressed concerns about plans to implement a 15-foot graded wall that would block the views from their homes, with others also saying the new design is completely different from what was presented to them in 2012.
"I think the community is looking for more, for a place to sit, a place to enjoy, to add some aesthetic beauty to what is a cookie-cutter section of town," said Jose Alvarez, a resident of the adjacent neighborhood.
Another resident, however, said he would be thrilled to have a local grocery store and other businesses he could walk to.
"I appreciate the new plan, more than the old plan because it takes into account that I don't have to listen to trash trucks and loading docks behind my house," he said. "I appreciate there being businesses I could walk to."
The Planning Commission ultimately voted to send the plan back for changes and review it again in August, with hopes for further revisions to the areas of concern, mainly the proposed wall lining the residences.
"Rather than condition it ... I’d rather see them go back and work on what we were concerned about," Dickerson said.
Sanders pushed back against the delay, arguing that the project could lose interested tenants and that commissioners could approve the project now with the condition that changes be made.
"If we lose a tenant, we lose the project and we’re back to square one. I would ask commissioners who want us to come back to reconsider," he said.
The proposal will be reviewed again on Aug. 19.
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