December 6-13, 2006

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Cannery Row

Nūz suspected that the recent controversy over activities at the Seabright Cannery, posed by the Sentinel as a classic neighbor vs. business brouhaha, might actually be a subtler story. And, after talking with some of the principals involved, we found that indeed it is. So here, as Paul Harvey has said for decades, is the rest of the story.

First, some history: nestled behind and west of Day's Market, at the corner of Seabright Avenue and the train tracks, is a cluster of large structures first built and open for business back in 1914. At that time, much of the Seabright area was little more than a summertime tent city.

Over the last 92 years, however, a tightly packed residential neighborhood has developed immediately north of the Cannery, with Hall Street (north), Bronson Street (west) and Owen Street (northeast) filled with beachy homes. Only Watson Street to the south is free of residences, functioning more as a frontage road along the railroad tracks by which many Cannery visitors make their way in and out.

And what visitors make their ways in and out of is markedly different. After the canning stopped in 1989, owner Richard Novak, also the owner of highly reputed local sporting goods and apparel manufacturer NHS (which is also the designer of the famed "dot logo" with the angled name of Santa Cruz within red or blue circles), secured a multiple-tenant permit in 1991, and the single business was supplanted by many. Eighteen separate spaces currently operate within the Cannery complex, spaces that house the likes of O'NeilL, Santa Cruz Bike, Santa Cruz Sail and Pacific Edge climbing gym.

With many tenants came many operating protocols and many deliveries and therefore many trucks and much loading and unloading, and some in the now-established neighborhood began to complain.

What those complaints revealed to city planning staff in 1995 was (notice the restrained language) "certain uses that appeared without benefit of a permit," and in 2003, "new tenant spaces constructed, as well as new mezzanines in certain buildings."

Richard Novak says that, yes, those things did happen, but in both cases, they were tenants' own actions. And as far as noise goes, he recounts, "I listened to the neighbors, in both cases of noise complaints, and didn't renew those tenants' leases."

Regardless, in 2003 negotiations began between city and owner, as to how to bring new operations into conformity with city planning regulations.

"This entire case is coming forward due to enforcement actions by the city," city of Santa Cruz Planning Director Greg Larson told us.

So is this a crackdown?

No, says Larson. "NHS is a good valuable skateboard and surfboard business, a tremendous asset for the city. Our hope is to make this decades-old operation as compatible as possible with the neighborhood that's grown around it."

And in hopes of doing that, he and planning staff suggested that the current uses be approved, but that the southern, Watson Street gate be open longer hours to divert more traffic from the northern residential neighborhood. That, to staff, was sufficient. Says Larson: "It is staff's belief that the site has been reducing its impact over time, with over half the site now warehouse and storage use."

But that didn't fly at the city planning commission, where neighbors showed up talking about traffic and noise impacts, and specifically, about loading and unloading of trucks at the northern loading dock nearest them. Richard Novak, while in attendance, didn't speak.

And by the end of the meeting, planning commissioners, on a 4-1 vote, had imposed a new condition: close the northern loading dock for six months and see how much difference it made in noise and traffic levels to the neighborhood.

"It was a tough decision to make," says Alex Khoury, the city's principal planner, balancing "neighbors' concerns against a viable business."

And what's tough about it is that the decision leaves Richard Novak and the Cannery site without a loading dock for the northern part of its huge middle building. Yes, goods can be loaded and unloaded at a more southern point and then forklifted to their final destination, but as visitors know, the site is over 5 acres in size. Hardly efficient.

That inefficiency has led Richard Novak to appeal the loading dock shutdown to the Santa Cruz City Council, where it will be heard on Jan. 9, 2007, at the 7pm session. "I don't know what else I can do," Novak told Nūz. "I'm down to my last move."

Perhaps it's that sense of doom that the Sentinel captured in its recent coverage, but the cloud seems to have lifted considerably, and at least two parties--owner Novak and the city planning staff--see brighter possibilities ahead.

No one knows the outcome, but director Larson sees the issue, overall, as crucial: "This is an important employment site for the city. It has been for decades, continues to be one today, and we hope it remains one for the future."

Novak agrees. "I feel positive about the outcome. I'm working well with the city staff, and I think that the City Council has got the bigger picture."

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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