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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on November 24th, 2021, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 22, Issue 39 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 22, Issue 39

Rezoning decision helps green-light future housing development at Hi-Way Drive-In property

By Caleb Wiseblood

A local nonprofit is one step closer to developing new low-income housing where the Hi-Way Drive-In currently stands.

On Nov. 17, the Santa Maria Planning Commission approved a proposed zoning change, from commercial to residential, for the property. The proposal is moving forward to City Council for final approval, which will determine whether or not People’s Self-Help Housing decides to purchase the site (about 8.89 acres), located at 3170 Santa Maria Way.

When the rezoning request was first brought before the Planning Commission in October, several community members weighed in during public comment, speaking against the proposal and in favor of preserving the property as a drive-in theater.

During the Nov. 17 meeting, Sheryl Flores, vice president of home ownership at People’s Self-Help Housing, addressed some of the nostalgic feedback she remembered hearing in October.

“I’d just like everyone to think for a moment, when was the last time that you went to the drive-in?” Flores asked. “You all have fond memories of going there … but maybe it’s time to make new memories.”

A proposed zoning change is moving forward to Santa Maria City Council for final approval, following the Planning Commission’s recent recommendation. The outcome will affect whether or not the Hi-Way Drive-In becomes a future site of low-income housing.

If the Hi-Way Drive-In does shut down, Flores suggested that the community look toward hosting outdoor film screenings in alternative venues, such as city parks. In defense of closing the theater to develop new low-income housing, Flores argued that the average housing cost in Santa Maria is becoming increasingly unaffordable each year.

“Drive-ins are becoming extinct, but even more so is the American dream of homeownership,” said Flores, adding that as of September, the median listing home price in Santa Maria was $547,000.

Bob Gran, whose family has owned and operated the Hi-Way Drive-In for the past four decades, also spoke during the Nov. 17 meeting in favor of the zoning change. After his father passed away in 2006, Gran stepped up as a co-operator to help his mother, Dian Gran, continue running the business.

“This used to be a profitable business; it is not profitable anymore,” said Gran, who explained that the family has already tried marketing their listed property as a drive-in theater, with no interested buyers.

Gran said he personally knows about 50 to 60 drive-in theater owners across the country, and not one of them showed interest in purchasing the site. Like Flores, Gran believes housing is the most compatible use for the property in the future, given its size and location, being surrounded by other residential neighborhoods.

The Planning Commission ultimately recommend the zoning change (decided by a 3-1 vote) for City Council to review and approve at a future meeting. 

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