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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on January 10th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 45 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 45

Downtown Santa Maria may get a much needed facelift, but not before city officials hear from the community

By KASEY BUBNASH

Dangerous, unwelcoming, noisy, and unattractive were just some of the words used by community members to describe downtown Santa Maria at two design workshops hosted by the city in October 2017.

Other residents mentioned a lack of local cafes, art galleries, and other businesses present in the area, as well as low walkability, and a total absence of safe lanes for bicyclists. Some attendees weren’t even sure what portion of Santa Maria is considered “downtown.”


FRIDAY FARMERS
The Downtown Fridays Farmers Market, a weekly event that will be held near the corner of Broadway and Main streets from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. starting March 30, is one of Santa Maria’s steps toward shifting community attention to the area, according to Santa Maria’s Principal Planner Neda Zayer. Local growers also host another farmers market (pictured) in the same location every Wednesday afternoon.
PHOTO BY KASEY BUBNASH

These are the major challenges faced by Santa Maria’s Principal Planner Neda Zayer, other city staffers, and community members who have set out to revitalize and redevelop the core of Santa Maria—the area closely encompassing the intersection of Broadway and Main streets. Through the Santa Maria Downtown Specific Plan, which was just recently set into motion, the city hopes to create the safe, vibrant downtown atmosphere residents have long expressed a need for.

But the plan is still in its earliest stages—seemingly little has happened since the workshops in October 2017—and city staffers are mostly working on gathering community input that Zayer said will be vital to the city’s draft street designs, which should be finished and released this spring.

As part of this effort, the city will have a short online survey open to all Santa Maria residents until Jan. 25. So far, dozens have attended each workshop and more than 700 locals have completed the survey, but Zayer said staffers want all the participation possible.

The city and its design partners will then use that feedback to find the best possible and most popular solutions to downtown’s key issues.

“And that’s not always an easy thing to do,” Zayer said. 

Streetscape 

The Downtown Specific Plan is divided into two design concepts: streetscape and framework. Zayer said “streetscape” includes everything from sidewalk size and street furniture to crosswalks and the design of streets themselves.

The majority of the city’s funding comes from a California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) Sustainable Communities grant and will go toward streetscape improvements. Combined with the city’s 11.47 percent funding match, the grant totals $300,000.

Much of that money, and the city’s focus, will go toward redesigning Broadway and Main streets in a way that will create a pedestrian and bicyclist friendly atmosphere, according to Zayer. That atmosphere will be great for economic development.

But as they are now, Broadway and Main streets are wide streets used as trucking routes. The multiple lanes and high speed limits on both streets make it noisy and difficult for pedestrians to enjoy walking around—in the October 2017 workshops residents said crossing Broadway feels like crossing a freeway.

The goal is to make Broadway and Main complete streets, Zayer said, which are roadways designed to support safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders. Complete streets are actually a state requirement, according to city officials, and cities not working to implement complete streets are not eligible for some kinds of state funding.

Like many community members who have attended the downtown project workshops, Kenneth Dahmen, the Santa Maria program director for the Santa Barbara County Bicycle Coalition, envisions a future where Santa Maria’s streets include safe bike lanes.

“If I could have anything,” Dahmen said, “it would be bike lanes separated from the street by a physical buffer to give people a peace of mind while walking or riding down the street.”

A “physical buffer” between bike and vehicle lanes could come in many forms, including planter boxes.

When bicyclists don’t feel safe on roads, Dahmen said they either ride on the sidewalk, which is dangerous for walkers, or give up riding, which has negative impacts on the environment, roadways, and economic status of downtown life.

The effort to make downtown Santa Maria a biker-friendly area is what Bici Centro, a Santa Barbara County Bicycle Coalition program, has long been striving for.

“Basically we’re trying to build a cycling culture,” Dahmen said. “Cars are becoming unaffordable for the majority of people, especially people living in the downtown area. So if you make it more convenient for those people to visit downtown shops, it’ll create a better economic situation.” 

Framework

Michael Sun, a longtime Santa Maria resident and owner of North China Restaurant, said he remembers a time when people from San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara would travel to Santa Maria to shop. But that was decades ago, and since then, things have changed.

Sun’s history with downtown Santa Maria is long: It’s where his family’s restaurant and wife’s law firm have been for years, and where he’s worked to develop and improve real estate, including his recent work revamping a historic building at Broadway and Main. But Sun said there aren’t as many local businesses as there once were in the area, and the push for a vibrant downtown has only recently returned.

“And I think it’s slowly getting there but there is still a long way to go,” Sun said. “It started with the farmers market coming downtown. That was a good step in the right direction.”

Have your say
Residents who would like to provide the city with feedback regarding downtown can find the online survey at surveymonkey.com/r/DowntownSantaMaria. The survey closes on Jan. 25.

His business ventures are all part of the framework of downtown, the second concept of the Downtown Specific Plan, according to Principal Planner Zayer.

Improvements made to downtown’s framework could include moving or repurposing parking lots, buildings, parks, and plaza spaces to create a more efficient and enjoyable city. These changes, Zayer said, will be funded by a $20,000 donation from the Santa Barbara Foundation.

Many community members have shown interest in putting downtown back on a grid system, Zayer said, as it was years ago. Other residents said at workshops that removing the mall entirely, repurposing it, or opening it up to create an outdoor shopping center would limit some of the issues its existence has caused—a mistake Zayer said city officials don’t want to repeat.

City officials hope to create a downtown atmosphere that encourages locals to develop mixed-use businesses downtown, which will then spur more diverse community activity in the area.

One such undertaking, Zayer said, is a project awaiting approval by the City Council on Jan. 16. If approved, a four-story building with one floor for commercial use and three for apartments would be built at 101 North Broadway. The project, Zayer said, meets all design guidelines established by the Downtown Specific Plan.

“From our perspective it’s really important to figure out what the best solutions are for Santa Maria,” Zayer said. “There is a wide range of options for things we can do. Downtown does have a lot of potential.”

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash can be at kbubnash@santamariasun.com.




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