Just considered individually, several factors should disqualify this ill-conceived project — density, traffic, parking, and shadow-casting, among others. Let’s start with one — this particular project is completely out of scale for its location:
- At 5 stories tall (6 stories if you count the extra floor on top earmarked for a rooftop bar that presumably has walls), this project would cast a shadow — figuratively and literally — over much of an entire city street, Belvedere Terrace (see related text and graphic, below). We also believe, as do many others outside our neighborhood, that its two enormous towers looming atop a hill would be an eyesore for the city.
- The scale as proposed is unthinkably large: 6 stories or levels, including the rooftop level; 151 units, an underground parking garage in which vehicles would be stacked in 2 levels, retail space, and a bar. All on less than one acre.
- Most notably, the developer is requesting a 47.5 percent increase in height above what is allowed under current zoning — from 40 to 59 feet. And a 274.5 percent increase in the number of units permitted per acre — from 55 to 151.
- In working with developers, Santa Cruz should discount existing zoning laws. Instead, the city should challenge developers to respect the motivation for existing zoning and prod them to come up with appropriate proposals.
- Why, we ask ourselves, is this proposal way past reasonable? Regrettably, we have been left to conclude that it is designed so the developer can maximize profits — at the expense of existing residents and neighborhoods.
- A project this size might be great for our downtown, but it is truly awful for a location that abuts an entire long-established neighborhood whose residents will live in the literal shadow of these twin monoliths. Perhaps it’s less important from a land-use perspective, but the people most affected by this proposed development have shopped locally, paid taxes, and tried hard to be responsible and caring citizens of Santa Cruz. This project would not even be close to fair for them.
- When asked, our group’s members are not opposed to new development on this site. But, to a person, we believe that we have one simple right: to expect that any replacement development be even remotely compatible in terms of size and scale with this area of our city. This proposal is clearly not that.
- It is critical that fresh development on this particular parcel be done right because what happens at 831 Water St. will invariably affect and influence further development along Water Street and Soquel Avenue. The precedents set here will have far-reaching consequences for years to come.
- While many Eastside residents objected to the now-shelved “Corridors Plan” because of the disproportionately high impact it would have had on city residents east of the river, this proposed project is not even faithful to the guidelines expressed in that plan. That’s because the Corridors Plan at least acknowledged the city’s responsibility to “protect” older neighborhoods in considering the kind of housing projects that plan envisioned. Further, this project violates the clear guidance from City Council to city staff regarding its work in place of “Corridors” – specifically, to “preserve and protect residential neighborhood areas and existing City businesses, as the City’s highest-level policy priority”, while creating “enhanced affordable housing opportunities.” [City Council minutes, August 27, 2019]
- This proposed project even “towers” over other housing projects (Water Street Apartments and Breakers Apartments) recently developed in the vicinity.
This project, as currently described, proposes a massive number of residential units, retail, and a bar that would completely overwhelm an intersection that for years has operated at near “failing” levels.
- First, any assessment of the proposed project’s impact on the intersection of Water Street and North Branciforte Avenue MUST NOT rely on traffic evaluations that are recorded during a global pandemic. When our downtown is fully operational, when the County Building and Courthouse are filled with workers, and when UC Santa Cruz is open in a non-virtual sense, the intersection of N. Branciforte and Water is already overwhelmed, making it non-functional and dangerous for many hours each workday.
- We do not claim to be traffic engineers, but the Water/B-40 intersection was analyzed — along with most other major intersections in Santa Cruz — as part of the Environmental Impact Report the city prepared in 2011 for its 2030 General Plan. Suffice it to say, the intersection where this project would be located was given one of the city’s lower “level of service” grades in that analysis — a “D” with “F” being the grade reserved for only the absolute worst intersections in our city. And that was 9 years ago! That assessment would not be a surprise to residents who already know that the intersection is “broken” and is dangerous to motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike. During normal (non-Covid) times, just turning left onto N. Branciforte while traveling up the Water Street hill can be very difficult; or proceeding east on Water Street through the intersection during rush hour can be nearly impossible where the lanes squeeze from 2 to 1, yielding backups well down the hill.
- Less obvious to people who don’t live in this area are other functional problems that already result from the necessity of having a divider on the portion of Water Street just below this intersection, triggering higher-than-normal U-turn traffic at the bottom of the hill.
- Even more alarming is that the existing site, under its current use, presents a real challenge for motorists just trying to exit and proceed anywhere other than down the Water Street hill. This project, at this scale, will only make these already obvious problems much worse. In addition, it seems likely that the U-turn problem will be extended to the side streets that are in the vicinity of this intersection if this irresponsible project goes forward as proposed.
- Other development — principally 908 Ocean St., just one half-mile away, proposes 408 dwellings, three stories high and a block wide — that will significantly impact traffic. Traffic studies have not been done yet but it argues for taking a holistic approach to the cumulative effects these projects will have on our city streets.
- Further, the project, as proposed, has its entry and exit at the west end of the project on Water Street, below the “brow” of the Water Street hill. Traffic into and out of the project will have to thread its way across one of the City’s major (and only recently improved) “greenway” cycling corridors. Cyclists are typically at or above 15 mph by that point on the downslope. We dread to think of the consequences of this reckless design on cyclist safety.
- These exacerbated traffic problems would also have an outsized impact on public safety by hindering emergency vehicles from the nearby Soquel Avenue Firehouse.
The project height, 6 stories with the top-floor bar level included (and why shouldn’t we count it?) will literally place many existing homes on Belvedere Terrace in a project shadow for many months of each year.
- This is not an exaggeration, as many homes on Belvedere Terrace will literally be robbed of direct sunlight for more than half the year. By our estimations, the towers — at their proposed height — would cast a shadow (see graphic) over a number of adjoining properties … for as many as 7 of the months each year when the sun is lower in the southern sky.
- This shading will have a disastrous impact on existing solar-panel installations, and is inconsistent with the spirit of the California Solar Mandate (which requires rooftop solar PV systems on all new homes built after January 1, 2020).
- Imagine, too, the loss of privacy for homes to the north of this massive structure, with 4 stories of residential windows looming over the backyards of adjacent neighbors.
- This would be a completely unacceptable consequence of this proposed development.
The project would have a tremendous impact on available parking on any street or side street in the project’s vicinity.
- The developer is building an inadequate number of parking spaces for tenants. The current plan appears to provide 141 parking spaces. But 27 of those are reserved for commercial use, leaving only 114 spaces for 151 residential units. That’s 35 spaces fewer than would be needed JUST FOR 1 space per residential unit. And what is going to happen in those units where the occupants have more than 1 vehicle? Those cars will be parked on nearby streets.
- As if that isn’t bad enough, we pose the question: Will the on-site parking, already less than needed (and required by code), be provided as a free benefit to tenants? It doesn’t appear so. In fact, it appears that the developer is — shockingly — proposing “unbundled” parking for tenants that will cost $3,600 per year per space. [Iman Novin, developer, during YIMBY presentation, December 10, 2020]. Perhaps this is meant to discourage project residents from owning a vehicle; but obviously, in that scenario, many residents will instead try to park on already overcrowded neighboring streets.
- Adding vehicles related to residents’ guests, retail customers, bar customers, delivery trucks, etc., would only compound the problem.
- Finally, with the city understandably encouraging a large number of Auxiliary Dwelling Units in recent years, there is less street parking available in many Santa Cruz neighborhoods. Picture, if you will, residents of this development circling neighborhood blocks in a futile search for a parking spot that often won’t be there and then ending up back at a near-failing intersection with nowhere to go.
This project, proposed at such an over-the-top scale, has the potential to exacerbate water drainage issues already present on the site, on Water Street hill, and in surrounding neighborhoods.
- Most homes in the neighborhood already have standing water in the rainy season. That’s because this neighborhood, according to geologists, was built upon the relatively impermeable Purisima mudstone. The underground parking and footings required for a structure of this size could exacerbate this issue on site and in adjoining properties, creating health risks for residents and liability for the city.
- Given the impermeability of the soil, many homes in the adjoining neighborhood use sump pumps to remove water from beneath their homes. At least one recently built home has black-mold issues that make it uninhabitable. The proposed project could very well exacerbate these existing problems in nearby neighborhoods, both because of its impact on drainage and the shade it would create.
- Also worrisome is the impact that this proposal could have on the hillside that is already unstable between the project site and Water Street. The substrata, viewed from the Water Street road cut, is fractured and continually crumbling in large blocks on the sidewalk, perhaps due to the continual seepage noted in the comment, above. Allowing such a massive project so close to a steep, unstable slope seems like a recipe for disaster.
The noise impact from a project of this size, especially with a rooftop bar overlooking entire neighborhoods, would be completely unacceptable.
- This project, already an ungodly 5 stories high with housing and retail space, dares add another floor for a rooftop bar — effectively making the project 6 stories tall!
- Who would benefit from that addition? The developer, certainly, with additional revenue. And because he somehow gets to count the 6th floor as community open space. Would the city benefit as well because of sales tax revenue? Perhaps so. Considered on its own, that would be fine.
- But it can’t be considered on its own because there’s one group that definitely wouldn’t benefit from a project of this scale in this location: the large number of Eastside residents who will be subject to ALL of the problems identified in this document, plus the noise attendant with that rooftop bar (shown in the project documents to include drinking games, such as “cornhole”)!
The proposed architectural design for this project could not be less compatible with a neighborhood that sits at the gateway to the historic Villa de Branciforte area of Santa Cruz.
- Even at a reduced and reasonable scale, which it’s obvious by now should be in this project’s future, it seems odd that this project — perhaps through its architectural design — wouldn’t visually pay tribute to the history of this part of Santa Cruz. Imagine this project, in its current form with its current design, positioned directly across the street from the landmark Branciforte Small Schools Campus.
Many projects of this kind design the buildings so that HVAC and other utility equipment are unfortunately located near, at, or above the roofline. This project is no exception, with substantial mechanical equipment shown on the roof (along with the elevator to the bar).
- In short, even if this project were to be revised to be a reasonable height, this equipment should be invisible to its neighbors (and others who will see this building).
- At the proposed height, the visibility and noise impact of such equipment would make this project even more untenable than it already is.
Bringing out-of-scale development such as this project, as currently proposed, will only tax our already strained infrastructure, including sewer, water, and parks.
- Even without significant growth, our sewer and water system will require major investments to maintain and upgrade existing infrastructure, and substantial additional funds would be required to support enhanced sewer capacity and water supply. As we face the increasing likelihood of droughts, we must be careful not to build ourselves into a real water-supply problem.
- Further, local governmental services are already overtaxed, and the city faces a financial crisis due to Covid-19 — current City revenues cannot support services for our existing residents.
- We don’t have adequate parks, even for current residents. While the bar may count as “community open space” in the City’s reckoning, that’s hardly the kind of family-friendly space that would enhance the neighborhood by providing recreational opportunities.