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Santa Maria City Council to discuss zoning changes for proposed housing development at Hi-Way Drive-in site

Hi-Way Drive-In
Hi-Way Drive-In in Santa Maria on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- Santa Maria City Council will discuss zoning changes tonight for the proposed housing development at the site of Hi-Way Drive-In.

It's the latest step in the ongoing effort to transform the longtime drive-in theater into an affordable housing complex.

"We've got a concept plan to put single-family homes on them," said ​​​​​Ken Trigueiro, People's Self-Help Housing President/CEO. "They'll be built by the people who are going to buy and own them."

If the development ultimately gains final approval, the non-profit organization People Self-Help Housing plans to build 49 single-family homes on the site located along Santa Maria Way.

"The need is great and we are just finding fewer and fewer opportunities like this one where the residential infrastructure is already available," said Trigueiro. "There's not enough pieces of land that we can really come up and develop and still keep it affordable at the end of the day, so the demand far outstrips the supply."

Last month, the Santa Maria Planning Commission approved zoning changes needed to push the project further along.

"The Planning Commission recommended approval of the change from commercial to residential," said Chuen Ng, Santa Maria Community Development Director. "Staff is also providing a recommendation for approval. We believe that request for residential is consistent with the surrounding area, which is also residential."

The nearly 9-acre site is currently designed for commercial use only. City Council members will discuss changing the zoning designation to residential.

"People's Self-Help Housing is the applicant and they're interested in building 49 single-family homes on the property," said Ng. "To do that, they have to request a change to the land use and zone from commercial to single-family residential."

Trigueiro pointed out the homes are intended for households that earn less than the area's median income.

"It's probably going to be about 80 percent or so of the area's median income that people will be earning," said Trigueir. "There's just almost no inventory that's available for being affordable to families that are earning that. These are people who are self-described, their occupations as being sort of the frontline essential workers. A lot are working in healthcare, and in supporting tourism industries, agriculture of course, retail, small businesses."

The current owners of the drive-in theater have indicated the business is no longer viable and have had the property listed on the market for more than a year.

"The long term prospects don't seem to support that same use in the future and that's our understanding through the owners who don't believe there's a future for that particular use," said Trigueiro. "In as much as there's a balance of one use versus another, affordable housing is really tipping the scales these days as far as we can tell from the demand we hear about each day."

Should the zoning change earn council approval, there would still be a couple more hurdles for the project to clear before it receives the green light to begin construction.

"If they receive approval by the City Council on Tuesday, they can move forward with a subsequent residential tract map that will go to the Planning Commission at a future date," said Ng.

Under a best case scenario for developers if final approvals come in a timely manner, construction could begin within a two-year time period.

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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.

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