The Santa Maria City Council took another step toward bringing the city’s Downtown Specific Plan to fruition by approving 82 new apartments on Main Street and Broadway during its Oct. 3 meeting. The council voted 3-1, with Councilmember Carlos Escobedo dissenting and Gloria Soto absent.
“Over the years, the city entered in a [request for proposal] process for development of various city parcels in downtown, mostly underutilized buildings or parking lots as an effort to stimulate development in downtown,” said Santa Maria’s Community Development Director Chuen Wu, who legally changed his last name from Ng, told the City Council.
Known as the Alvin Newton Apartments, the mixed-use, infill development will have five studios, 67 one-bedroom apartments, and 10 two-bedroom apartments, with ground floor commercial or retail space, Wu said. The Spanish mission-style building will include plazas, an outdoor rooftop area for residents, and ground floor outdoor dining space.
“We’ve been talking about this for a long time. As identified in the Downtown Specific Plan, there’s a vision for a pedestrian-friendly downtown with a mix of housing, retail, dining, and outdoor space, and this project does meet those goals and objectives,” he said.
After a series of meetings and public input, project developer the Vernon Group agreed to add a memorial for Alvin Newton, a Santa Maria firefighter who perished in the Bradley Hotel fire in 1970, Wu said. The memorial will include a bronze statue with plaques to educate people about what happened and a mosaic that highlights the work of firefighters.
“We call this project ‘larger than life’; it’s going to be a significant height and designed by an artist, and it will be prominent,” he said.
The renewal of the firefighter memorial could have been a contentious issue, since the project site housed the original memorial’s space and a replacement wasn’t in the original design, Chamber of Commerce President Glenn Morris said during public comment. But the Vernon Group’s willingness to work with the city and its residents kept the project alive.
“It’s a great example of different groups of people who are willing to sit down respectfully, have a dialogue, and ultimately produce a project that’s better,” Morris said.
Councilmember Escobedo wasn’t as confident about this project and said he ultimately couldn’t vote for it because of his constituents’ concerns for rent affordability and a lack of ownership opportunities.
“There’s the fact of having too many rentals, it’s something my constituents have not been fans of; they are looking to own,” Escobedo said. “I voted for Fallas and during that vote one of the reasons I voted for it—even though it was rentals—there was some affordability.”
Brad Vernon, a Vernon Group partner, told Escobedo that the apartments could not become properties people could own because of existing infrastructure, but there are future projects that could have ownership potential.
David Alpern, a Vernon Group partner, told the Sun in an email that the company will continue to conduct outreach with the local community to hear and address any concerns residents have about the project moving forward.
“While you cannot expect to make everyone happy, our goal is to listen to what people have to say and, where appropriate, try to incorporate those ideas into our designs, as was the case with Mr. Alvin Newton’s legacy,” Alpern said. “We could not have honored his memory in such a meaningful way without the input from those stakeholders.”