The slow and quiet resurgence of the “Corridor Plan.”
By Erica Aitken
The Belvedere Street neighbors brought in a cherry picker crane raise to the height of the future buildings on Water Street and Branciforte. Please visit their website here.
There is a new project up for consideration by the City Council. 831 Water Street will replace a strip mall with a car wash and small businesses. The two five-story buildings, one for affordable and one for workforce housing, include space for commerce and stackable parking.
The 77 affordable units (30% to 80% AMI), 74 units in the price range of 80% to 120% AMI are exciting if it weren’t for the sheer size of it, built in a neighborhood of modest single homes and small businesses with setbacks too narrow to give it air. It’s the end of sunshine for a substantial number of houses. The neighbors, who welcome new affordable housing, oppose this giant building.
Is the East side overbuilt to spare the more affluent West side?
In 2015, what was known as the “Corridor Plan” started to make its way through City Council and staff. Four so-called corridor streets, Water Street, Mission Street, Ocean Street, and Soquel Ave, in spite of being too narrow, would be developed with high density buildings on the incorrect assumption that public transportation was more available.
In 2017, the Eastside neighbors created an organization called Save Santa Cruz. Like most groups that oppose massive projects, they presented sensible alternatives that would safeguard their neighborhoods while providing additional housing. For instance, instead of 5-story buildings, Save Santa Cruz suggested that the city adhere to the Bay Area Density Development Standards by restricting heights to 40 ft (2 to 3 levels) and a maximum of 20 to 40 units per acre. Their plan encouraged the construction of ADUs with lower rents. Their solutions presented an environment more compatible with the neighborhoods, at lower cost for the same number of units, without congestion. In August 2019, City Council voted to table the Corridor Plan directing city staff to prioritize the preservation of neighborhood residences and businesses and to focus on affordable housing. The City was to update two planning documents by November 2020.
At issue is the lack of balance between the East and West sides of Santa Cruz. Of the four “corridor” streets, only one, Mission Street, is on the West side. Downtown is slated for high-priced compact luxury building without buy-in from the community. These include the library/garage mixed-use project, the Riverfront Housing Complex, 555 Pacific Ave., and more. In contrast, on the East side, 831 Water street and another even huger project, 908 Ocean Street which spans from Water Street to Hubbard Street where Maryanne Ice Cream is located. This will gobble up 20 parcels to become 408 small ownership units of 650 sq ft.
What are the differences between these projects and the ones sprouting downtown? There’s an obvious difference in the intention. The downtown ones are luxurious and will be extremely expensive to live in, attracting wealthy people from areas like Silicon Valley. Their presence and money will change the character of the city and push current owners and renters towards to the Eastside and beyond. Imagine our city with luxury buildings downtown, affluent residences on the West side and big ugly buildings on the East.
Opponents of these huge projects are not against development because they understand the need to house those who work here, and to anticipate natural growth. But what is happening today is truly bewildering, a constant flux of projects up for approval, with no adherence to the General Plan’s call for development in scale and in character with the city.
What can we do? We must become familiar with all of these projects, offer suggestions and reactions and let the City Council know that we are aware, educated, and vigilant. And we must remember that our vote for City Council determines the future of our city.
To be informed, you will find proposals for projects in Santa Cruz on the City’s website