Development of a U-Haul storage facility at the former Kmart site will continue after the Santa Maria City Council rejected an appeal by a resident protesting a recent project approval by city officials.
Located at 2875 Santa Maria Way, the 13-acre site holds 700 parking spots and a building where U-Haul plans to accommodate 635 mini-storage units and a retail entrance on the northeast corner of the building.
The Planning Commission granted a conditional use permit to U-Haul in 2019 after U-Haul bought the property for $6.7 million from Kmart, which vacated the site last year after its owner, Sears, filed for bankruptcy in 2018.
Before approving the remodel of the interior, which would allow for storage units, the Planning Commission held three public hearings this May and June to hear feedback from residents in close proximity to the project.
The feedback included 244 letters and petitions, with 195 in support of the project and 49 in opposition.
On June 17, the commission approved the project in a 3-2 vote.
That decision was appealed on July 1 by resident Stephen Wagner, who cited concerns about building a storage center in an area zoned for commercial use and about the appearance of the site.
"Over 50 neighbors including me vehemently oppose ... turning this entire area into an industrial use like U-Haul wants in the form of self storage," Wagner wrote in his appeal. "We want, need and can support commercial retail in this area."
During the Sept. 1 City Council meeting, Community Development Director Chuen Ng explained to the council that while retail is one possible use for general commercial zoning, a storage facility is still an appropriate use for the site.
Ng added that the building and parking lot have sat vacant for nearly a year since Kmart's closure, making the U-Haul project a welcome change even though it would bring in less sales tax revenue than a more traditional retail business.
While the city did reach out to residents within 300 feet of the project site to inform them of the planned development, in compliance with state requirements, Wagner argued that the city should have reached out to a larger radius of residents.
"I really take exception to the city's notifying people on a minimal basis ... the applicants chose not to engage residents," Wagner said. "I'm a resident, they didn't engage with me."
While some residents who made comments during the meeting agreed more retail was needed in the city, they said that U-Haul still would be a good investment.
They also cited opportunities for retail development at other empty buildings in the city, such as the former Costco site on South Bradley Road, which was recently re-zoned to allow for further retail use.
During the Sept. 1 meeting, Wagner also requested that the council require U-Haul to install tree lines to obscure the building and for truck displays to be limited only to the Santa Maria Way side of the property.
The City Council unanimously rejected Wagner's appeal on the premise that the city followed all necessary steps in receiving feedback from neighbors prior to approving the project.
The council also declined Wagner's request for U-Haul to redesign the setup of their parking lot, arguing that the city had little authority to tell U-Haul to adjust its layout since the company owns the property.
"I think we may be asking for trouble if we try to tell them how they can use their own property as far as parking. I have no issues with it at all," Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Cordero said.
The Santa Maria Way facility is currently open but is only offering truck rentals at this time. There are six other U-Haul facilities across Santa Maria.