The Density Question
By Datta Khalsa, Broker
We are starting to see the impact of state-mandated density rules like SB 35 show up with increasing visibility as the city signals their intent to move forward with an AMBAG-driven housing element that proposes to add 3,736 new homes over the next eight years, including about 1,400 affordable homes for people with low or very low incomes.
Barry Swenson’s building at 555 Pacific Ave in 2018 was the first large-scale example of our town’s next generation in mixed-use development, breaking the old height barrier with its 4-story design which features several street level restaurants and storefronts plus 94 studio and 1-bedroom apartments. And Santa Cruz’s largest building yet is taking final shape at Laurel and Pacific, with its 70 units of affordable housing in 7 stories eventually to be overshadowed by the proposed 8-story “Five 30” building at the corner of Laurel and Front St.
Other high-profile projects in the works include Novin Development’s 5-story development at 831 Water St, and the recently-approved Barry Swenson proposal for an 8-story, 276 unit building at the corner of Soquel and Front St. And in case you thought it might stop at 8 stories, there are conceptual drawings of 15 and 17-story highrises that have been proposed for the site of Kaiser Permanente Arena. If you would like to be heard on proposals like this, there are multiple meetings happening over the coming weeks and months where you can give your input.
There are multiple applications underway along Mission Street as well, including the proposed joint venture by the owners of the Food Bin to replace their longtime neighborhood health food store with a 5-story mixed-use development that would house a new version of the store with 54 units above it, including 8 for very low-income residents.
On the Eastside, the old May’s Sushi site is now slated for a 4-story building including street level retail plus 84 units above it, with 14 designated for low and very low income. Under previous guidelines the project had been approved for 32 condos, but according to the developer those numbers didn’t pencil out and the property sat for years on the market before the new regulations allowing for higher density use made the project more attractive.
It remains to be seen whether building all these units will bring down the cost of housing in Santa Cruz, and there are understandable concerns about how all this added development will impact the character of our community, but in the face of statewide regulation and the profit incentive that increased density creates, it is a virtual certainty that the Santa Cruz of the future will be a far more populated town than the one we have enjoyed to date.
The challenge as I see it will be if we can “Keep Santa Cruz Weird”, as the uniquely beautiful and odd-duck place that we know and love, while growing it in a manner that can be shared by the newcomers without spoiling it, as we who have lived here for decades managed to with those who were already here all those years ago.