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An artist’s rendering shows part of a proposed 80-unit apartment complex on Felix Street in Santa Cruz. (Braddock & Logan — Contributed)

SANTA CRUZ >> The Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday denied a zoning change that would have allowed the addition of 80 new units to an apartment complex next to Neary Lagoon.

Consistent with the council’s August decision on the proposal, council members essentially agreed with many neighbors who did not want apartments built in place of parking lots that surround the 240-unit Cypress Point Apartments at 101 Felix St. in Santa Cruz.

“We are not in favor of the project currently, based on concerns regarding spot zoning, the integrity of the current general plan and the importance of protecting quality of life in the surrounding neighborhoods,” Mayor Justin Cummings said at Tuesday’s meeting. 

“Spot zoning” referred to changing zoning for specific projects when the change is at odds with a larger city plan. A representative for the developer disputed that name.

The zoning change would have shifted the area from low-medium density to medium density. Although the council voted against the change at its Aug. 25 meeting, Santa Cruz City Attorney Tony Condotti asked the council to let the city’s planning commission weigh in on the zoning change because the commission was supposed to do that before the council made its decision in August. Condotti acknowledged that it was the city staff’s mistake.

The red area outlines where 80 new apartments are proposed. (Braddock & Logan — Contributed)

Instead, the council Tuesday voted to take no action and essentially kill the zoning change and the housing proposal. The vote was 6-0 with Councilmember Cynthia Mathews abstaining because her family owns property within 500 feet of the site.

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Some of the neighbors’ objections included:

  • Height and location of the proposed buildings
  • Potential impacts to the lagoon and potential for flood
  • More traffic and potential speeding on Felix Street
  • Alleged poor management of the current complex

Brian Raphel, a representative of Braddock and Logan Services, Inc. that owns Cypress Point Apartment and made the proposal, was the only person Tuesday to speak in favor of the project. Raphel said the parking lots outside the current complex are underused, as a recent study noted. The project would have built studios and one-bedroom apartments that met the city’s 20% affordable requirement, Raphel said. 

“We’re 100% supportive of protecting Neary Lagoon. It’s a beautiful city park,” Raphel said. 

Council reduces parking rules for new homes

Separately Tuesday, the city council unanimously approved reduced parking requirements for new housing developments and non-residential properties. The California Coastal Commission now must approve some parts of the plan for those parts to take effect in the city. 

The proposal from the city’s planning staff tries to reduce driving and allow more room for housing projects. The coastal commission usually wants to ensure adequate street parking for visitors to the coast, city staff said. 

The changes include:

  • Removal of the requirement for covered parking on single-family lots to allow garages to be used for living space.
  • Allowing developers flexibility to reduce required parking by up to 35% for residential, mixed-use and commercial projects. It had been 30%.
  • One parking space would be required for each bedroom in a new duplex or triplex.

Councilmember Renee Golder said she supported the parking requirement reductions. 

“I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of decades, I feel like, now that garages seem slightly archaic,” Golder said. “As our housing problems arise, I think the easiest infill would be the conversion of garages to living space, bedrooms or ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units).” 

Parks Master Plan 2030 approved

Tuesday, the city council approved a Parks Master Plan 2030. 

It guides goals, policies and improvements for city parks and open spaces for the next 10 years. Based on public input, the draft document has been revised several times since 2017.

The plans include upgrades to essentially every park in the city, from playground expansions to water fountain replacements to trail upgrades. It also includes a goal to renovate the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. A summary of the recommendations for park improvements is here.  

Goals outlined in the plan include: 

  • Protect the city’s natural resources, wildlife habitat, and environment.  
  • Maintain a safe, clean, and comfortable environment for all park users.
  • Provide an integrated parks system with clean, convenient access to parks, open spaces and the coastline.

Mayor Justin Cummings said the document would allow the city to apply for more grants to help improve parks. “We are a community that really takes our parks seriously,” Cummings said.

Vice Mayor Donna Meyers said she appreciated the thousands of residents who provided input into the plan. 

“This is something that we should be celebrating,” Meyers said.

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Stephen Baxter is a co-founder and editor of Santa Cruz Local. He covers Santa Cruz County government.