April 23—The Santa Maria Planning Commission this week delayed approval of a conditional use permit for Park Edge apartments on Santa Maria Way after receiving a last-minute letter from the local carpenters union.
The 140-unit complex, which includes plans for a drive-through restaurant or coffee stand, was due to receive a conditional use permit at the Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday, before planners received a letter from 280 Attorney Mitchell Tsai pages on behalf of the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters on the same day.
The SWRCC represents nearly 60,000 carpenters across California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. In the letter sent on its behalf, the union highlights environmental concerns about the project, stemming in large part from concerns that out-of-town workers will be transported during construction.
“Local hire provisions requiring that a certain percentage of workers reside within 10 miles of the project site can reduce travel times for suppliers, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and [provide] localized economic benefits,” the letter read.
According to officials, the city has an obligation to comply with California’s Environmental Quality Act and substantive public comments should be considered.
“It’s frustrating to receive a letter on the day of the hearing. It puts the city in a difficult position because we don’t have time to analyze it or respond to the points raised,” said Heather Whitman, assistant city attorney. commission. “In this case, new issues have come up that we want to resolve, because if we don’t resolve them, they won’t be on the record.”
The issues raised in the union’s letter were also raised by several of its members during the public comment portion of the hearing.
“I know this project will have an impact on the environment. It will add air pollution with all the extra traffic in the area,” said Manley McNinch, of Santa Maria and SWRCC. “There’s already an apartment complex going up across the street. All of this just creates more greenhouse gases and environmental problems.”
Park Edge will combine two empty lots on the east side of the intersection of Santa Maria Way and Miller Street. The two lots are on opposite sides of the Santa Maria Way bike path at Maramonte Park. Across Miller Street, Santa Maria Studios with 378 affordable senior housing units is under construction.
Robin Ventura, another SWRCC member who has family in Santa Maria, also raised the issue of affordability.
“Most of these contractors are going to come in and bring in outside labor. They’re going to come in and work with very low wages,” he said. “The people actually building this project will never be able to rent it.”
In response to the new concerns, the city attorney’s office and planning division requested that the permit approval be deferred until the June 15 meeting, so the city could prepare its response. The commission regularly holds a public session in May, but city officials don’t think that will give them enough time.
“Based on our conversation this afternoon with our environmental consultant, their view was that a written response was required, and to prepare an adequate written response – given the limited time they had to review this letter – they doubted they would be able to complete the analysis of this information in the time allotted to proceed with the next hearing,” said Frank Albro, senior planner. “May 18 just isn’t possible.”
In response to environmental concerns and the city’s request for a delay, Brian Schwartz, senior planner at Santa Maria-based Urban Planning Concepts — which is working with Los Angeles developer Dynamic Developments on the project — responded that the letter doesn’t was just a delay tactic.
“I think everyone here can see what’s going on here with the submitted letters,” he told the commission. “The question is, ‘Are we going to encourage this type of behavior, this effort to manipulate the process under the guise of environmental protection just to bolster their job numbers?'”
Schwartz also said concerns about local hiring were unfounded.
“This team they’ve hired here is all local, landscape architect Bethel Engineering, [Urban Planning Concepts]”, did he declare. “Dynamic Developments hired local teams. They have carried out several local projects in the city. They are investing in the city, and they will continue to hire locals. »
Dynamic Developments also built the new Hampton Inn and Refugio Townhomes in Santa Maria.
Members of the Planning Commission were torn between responding to the city’s request to address SWRCC’s concerns and setting a precedent for future projects.
“I agree with the commissioner [Tim] Seifert; it’s a blocking tactic,” Commissioner Maribel Hernandez said. “We have confidence in our consultant. They did a thorough job; otherwise, the city would not have hired them. I think we have the information we need to move forward, but if others feel we need an extension, I’m not against that.”
In the end, the commission voted unanimously to continue the permit approval process until June 15 to give the Planning Division the time it requested to respond.
“I also think it’s a delaying tactic,” said Robert Dickerson, chairman of the Planning Commission. “That said, it is once in good faith by the [project’s] opponents where they raised some things the city attorney would like to address. I am ready to give it to them. At some point, however, we will have to consider that to be unreasonable.”