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Santa Maria’s Community Development Director planning for retirement

For more than three decades, life has been a series of maps for Larry Appel, who currently serves as Santa Maria Director of Community Development. But now, after a long and distinguished career in public planning, Appel has professionally reached the end of the road.

“It was time,” said Appel, describing his decision to retire. “I’ve done this for 36 years and I’ve enjoyed it for the most part the whole time. Obviously, there have been times where either projects were frustrating, or personnel issues that made things frustrating, but all-in-all, it’s been a wonderful career.”

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A graduate of San Marcos High School and UC Santa Barbara, Appel began his career in public planning in 1981. He spent 26 years working for the County of Santa Barbara, serving in various capacities, including Senior Planner, Environmental Specialist, Senior Environmental Planner, and Supervising District Planner.

In 2006, he moved north to El Dorado County to work in the planning division. He returned back to Santa Barbara County in 2009 to work for the City of Santa Maria. Since then, he has served as Director of Community Development, which oversees the city’s planning and building departments.

“It’s safe to say this has been the best job that I’ve ever had in my career,” Appel said.

During his time in Santa Maria, Appel has played a key role in helping several notable commercial and residential projects come to fruition.

“I’m fortunate to have been here when the economy improved, so that a number of projects that started, but not gone all the way through, were able to be finalized and go into the construction phase,” said Appel.

Among the high-profile projects Appel has seen become reality includes Edwards Theatres in the Santa Maria Town Center mall. The theater project was long delayed for more than 10 years until it was finally built and opened in 2013.

“Really happy we were able to get the theater in town,” said Appel. “There had been a number of starts-and-stops with different developers on that, but it finally worked out.

Appel is also proud of his contributions with Windset Farms, the massive greenhouse complex located along Black Rd.

“They’re going to have 7 million square feet of greenhouses west of town after the current phase in finished, and they have plans for another 4 million, so it will be the largest vegetable greenhouse in North America,” said Appel.

Appel was also instrumental in the difficult and lengthy planning process for the much-anticipated Enos Ranchos project, the transformational retail and residential complex that is now under construction along Highway 101 and Betteravia Rd.

“It’s going to be a destination location for many people from the city and outside the city because we’ll have the big box stores, Costco, Lowes, and then some large retailers with a lot of restaurants. We’re getting a number that have not been in the area before, some that haven’t been in California before, so we’re looking forward to bringing those in, along with the big retail and to be able to have the increase tax revenue, which obviously is most important to the city,” said Appel.

Increasing tax revenue has been a key accomplishment for Appel and the rest of his department during his time with the city.

“I think we’re doing really well,” Appel said. “I’m very happy with the direction that we’ve received from the city council and city management staff. We try to make sure that we comply with those goals. The city has taken down a direction. They want us to improve the city from a retail sales tax standpoint. We’re doing what the council is asking us to do and I’m feeling good leaving at this point knowing that we’ve accomplished those goals.”

Another significant contribution was his role in reshaping Santa Maria’s Downtown Specific Plan. Updated last year, the plan is a blueprint for the revitalization, redevelopment and beautification of the downtown area.

“The plan was switched over this last year to focus on bringing people to the downtown and that has worked very well. We’re very excited about having the new businesses come to the downtown. We have a new medical complex that’s taking over the bank in Town Center West. We have an old motel being converted to into mixed-use, a couple of new restaurants, so there’s a lot of things that are happening with the downtown.”

Also on the horizon in the city are several important projects, including the large-scale “Betteravia Plaza” development, located next to the Santa Maria Police Department.

“(It) is a mixed-use project that has retail components, office components and also residential, and so that should be getting started in the next year,” said Appel. “So this is going to provide some significant shopping and office use on the west side of town so people don’t have to commute all the way across town to get to retail stores.”

This Friday marks Appel’s final day on the job. On Wednesday, he’ll be recognized for his service before the City Council meeting.

As for the extra time he’ll soon have on his hands, Appel says he’ll spend more time with his family and his outside interests, which includes bicycling, photography, travel and scuba diving. He also says he’ll remain active in the community and that he leaves the department in great hands.

“We’ve got a real brain trust here, both in the planning and building divisions and now with the special projects,” Appel said. “It’s been really good group to supervise.”

The city has not yet named Appel’s successor. No timetable for hiring a replacement has been released.

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