Santa Cruz downtown plan green lights higher-density development, river connectivity
Developers eying Santa Cruz’s downtown will soon have the opportunity to be building bigger and taller in some areas, a move years in the making championed by housing advocates.
The Santa Cruz City Council voted Tuesday night to approve updates to the nearly three-decade-old Downtown Recovery Plan, first drafted in the wake of the devastating 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. In addition to easing the way for more multi-story housing projects in the city’s commercial and transportation hub, the plan creates incentives for increased connectivity with the adjacent San Lorenzo River. The plan envisions the mostly vacant space adjacent to the river levee, a “no man’s land where we have some social issues,” according to city Principal Planner Ron Powers, will be filled in with public space such as landscaped terraces.
Downtown Association Executive Director Chip commended the three years of work and 21 community meetings that went into updating the plan. He described higher-density building options and allowances to decrease parking requirements as the “best shot of reducing the inevitable impacts new housing will have on traffic, congestion and related climate change impacts.”
Chips said that the plan, while the beginning of a “very exciting era for Santa Cruz,” is just the beginning of the conversation about creating a “thoughtful, effective and complete” downtown.”
Large downtown properties on parts of Pacific Avenue and Front Street will be able to build up to the height of 85 feet, up to 75 feet west of Pacific Avenue and 70 feet along the river. The city’s tallest downtown building, the Palomar building, is 92 feet. Only 20 percent of the projects will be allowed to build to maximum heights. Powers said much of that height will not be visible from the street, due to the tree-lined streets’ canopy.
Restaurant owner Ted Burke told the council that in the past 15 years, more than 50 percent of his employees said in exit interviews that they had to leave Santa Cruz County due to the area’s high cost of living. He said the city needed to choose between building in its protected park “green belt” areas or increase its development density.
“You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” Burke said.
Though the vast majority of those who spoke Tuesday supported the updated plan, numerous community members in letters to the council voiced concerns ranging from environmental harms and traffic congestion to atmospheric and natural lighting impacts. While the plan was championed by many for its ability to draw new housing development, Councilman Chris Krohn criticized it for not creating specific affordable housing provisions, saying he did not believe the plan represented the majority of city residents’ views. Krohn and Councilwoman Sandy Brown voted against the plan.
One speaker called the concept of taller buildings “excessive and unnecessary,” while resident Dawn Schott-Norris called potential new building heights as “off the charts.”
“I’m also concerned that we’re thinking that this is somehow going to be the magic pill that’s going to take care of all of our problems — it isn’t,” Schott-Norris said. “I am just requesting a measured approach, something reasonable and responsible so that the people who live here now can actually continue to do so and that we can really provide the affordable housing that this town needs.”
Mayor Cynthia Chase described one casualty of the plan — a requirement that Bonesio Liquors store on Pacific Avenue change its business model in coming years to reduce its off-site alcohol sales to an “incidental” part of the business as the “bummer portion” of the evening. The store, according to Deputy Police Chief Rick Martinez, was responsible for a bulk of the police department’s calls for service and cases, compared to other city liquor stores.
Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, November 15, 2017 10:22pm
Author: Jessica York
Read More: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/article/NE/20171115/NEWS/171119827#at_pco=cfd-1.0