A new 5-story affordable housing complex approved for the current Food Bin in Santa Cruz site was approved despite objections from neighbors.
The city’s planning commission passed it in a 5-1 vote on January 18. The new building will provide housing for students and young professionals, according to Workbench, the project’s developer.
But current residents voiced their concerns over the building’s height and the question of where the potential 59 new residents will park. Other issues such as where delivery drivers will park were also raised.
While the original plan held the number of units to 40 and the project’s height to three stories, Workbench will invoke California’s state density bonus law, SB 330, to increase its scope. Now, the city’s zoning laws will be waived, raising the maximum height of the Food Bin project from three stories to five, and the number of units in the building from 40 to 59.
Unless it is legally challenged, it does not have to go before the city council, according to city staff.
The project will now consist of 59 reduced-size units, also called single room occupancy (SRO) units, that are about 288 square feet in size. The dwellings may include a kitchen and partial bathroom, and are meant for one to two people.
Eight of the 59 units will be for “very low income households” which would be rented to an individual making between $34,600 and $57,650 . The remaining units would be rented at market rate.
The current Food Bin and Herb Room buildings, which date back to the 1960’s, will be torn down to make way for the project. A commercial space for a new Food Bin and 12 electric vehicle parking spots for customers will be built on the ground floor.
Senior planner for the city, Ryan Bane, told the commission that under the codified “objective standards” used to evaluate developments, they could not reject this project. The city could be held liable for $10,000 for every unit found to be illegally blocked, he said.
In the public comment portion of the meeting, neighbors expressed worry about new residents taking on-street parking and the building’s size. They also were concerned about pedestrian safety in the busy intersection.
“We are not against the development, we’re not, but please come to our neighborhood and look up at the building from our point of view,” said Craig Schindler who moved four houses down from the proposed building after the CZU fire destroyed his home.
Other residents pointed out that the units might not be affordable to students, and questioned how the building could enforce keeping people with cars from renting.
No parking is required under new state law if the project is within a half mile of transit. But even if many students own cars they can rent to those that do not, according to Jamileh Cannon, founder of Workbench.
“[You] can be prejudiced against the car owning class— they are not a protected class of people,” said Cannon.
Doug Wallace and Peggy Eulensen, the owners of the Food Bin, hired Workbench to make their vision a reality. They hope that students will bike, walk, and take the bus. As a condition of the project’s approval, the developers were tasked to work with the city to provide bus passes to the future residents.
A few Food Bin loyalists said they would no longer shop there if the new design went ahead because the Food Bin would no longer be “stop and shop” without easy parking.
But more UC Santa Cruz students expressed excitement that they would be able to live so close to a market, and reminded the commission that every small unit of housing matters– in 2020, 9% of UCSC students were homeless.
Nicholas Robles of the UCSC Housing Coalition spoke in favor of the project’s car-free commitment as a student who doesn’t own a car. He said he fantasized about coming home to the building after a long day on campus, and filling up on groceries: “Students at UCSC are already paying premium for M&Ms from vending machines, $3, and they’re paying that, it’s selling, so it’s a pretty good deal for the Food Bin as well.”
According to Doug Wallace, residents will mingle with the customers and the store will continue to be a gathering place for nutritional information. To fit the new student focus, Wallace plans a coffee bar and burritos for quick shopping in the new store.
“We’re small business owners and we’ll work hard to create a neighborhood market that is synergistic with the town and the neighborhood,” said Doug Wallace.