Tuesday, November 30, 2021     Volume: 22, Issue: 39

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 13th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 33 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 22, Issue 33

People's Self-Help sees housing potential in Santa Maria's drive-in theater

By Caleb Wiseblood

The owner of the Hi-Way Drive-In is in talks to sell the Santa Maria property to a nonprofit housing developer. 

Representatives of both the theater and the prospective buyer, People’s Self-Help Housing, voiced their support for a proposed zoning change—which would be required to develop low-income housing on the site—during the Oct. 6 Santa Maria Planning Commission meeting. 

Martin Indvik, of Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate, read a letter from theater owner Dian Gran during the meeting. Gran described the drive-in as no longer economically viable due to competition with streaming services and other circumstances. 

The Hi-Way Drive-In is looking for a buyer, and People’s Self-Help Housing is eyeing the property as a potential spot for affordable single-family housing.

“My property, as a theater business, is not being used to its highest potential anymore,” Gran wrote in the letter. “As I have explored the potential of selling my property, there has been no interest in it as a drive-in theater. The only interest and value in my property is for a residential purpose.”

The drive-in is currently open and screening films five nights a week, but Gran described business as dwindling. Gran’s company, Cal Gran Theatres, also owns the Parks Plaza Theatre in Buellton, which closed at the start of the pandemic and hasn’t reopened since. 

During the city’s Planning Commission meeting, Sheryl Flores, vice president of home ownership at People’s Self-Help Housing, said she sympathizes with community members who would be saddened if the drive-in were to close, but reiterated Gran’s stance on repurposing the property, if the zone change is approved.

“Without a zone change from commercial to residential, the drive-in property may soon become a vacant, blighted sight, or possibly developed with commercial businesses that may be far more disruptive to the surrounding residents than single family homes,” Flores argued.

Reception from public commentators at the meeting was mixed. Christopher Weddle, a lifelong Santa Maria resident, said he hopes the zone change is denied and called the theater “a staple of the community” and a safe space for family and youth outings. About a year ago, Weddle created a Facebook group, Save the SM Hi-Way Drive-In, which currently has more than 3,500 members.

Nadia Abushanab, advocacy and events director at the Santa Barbara County Action Network, said she believes the best possible use of the property is to develop new, affordable housing. Since the property is already surrounded by residential areas, Abushanab argued that the project “wouldn’t change the make-up of the neighborhood very much.”

Ultimately, members of the Planning Commission agreed to hold their decision on whether or not to recommend the proposal for a future date, as two commissioners were absent from the Oct. 6 meeting, and to allow more community members—especially current residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the drive-in—to voice their feedback in the meantime.

Weekly Poll
What are your Thanksgiving plans this year?

Traveling to be with family.
Staying home to feast with local family/friends (gas is too expensive/we’re not out of the pandemic yet).
Putting up my Christmas lights and tree ASAP.
Asking family to come to us this year.

| Poll Results

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