A rendering of a proposed Capitola Road senior living facility. The building would be four stories tall.

A four-story, 93-unit assisted living facility is proposed at Capitola Road and Bulb Avenue in Capitola. (Irwin Partners Architects)

CAPITOLA >> At a Capitola City Council meeting Thursday, a developer received mainly negative feedback on a proposal for a four-story, 93-unit senior assisted living facility at 3720 Capitola Road. 

The proposal is on Capitola Road and Bulb Avenue, across from the Capitola Mall parking garage. 

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Four of five city council members said they would not support the project as presented, with Councilmember Alexander Pedersen in the minority. Councilmember Margaux Morgan said the development’s size would be “pretty daunting for anyone who would be living near or around it.” 

Vice Mayor Yvette Brooks said she objected to the “boxy” design and the small outdoor space for residents. “If people are spending the rest of their days there, you don’t make a box for them to live in,” Brooks said.

A 50-foot-tall building would include a courtyard so residents with memory problems could walk safely outside, developer Frank DeBernardo said at the meeting. 

Assisted living means residents would receive help with bathing, dressing and other activities, but they would not receive medical care like at a nursing facility. Some residents would have Alzheimer’s disease or other conditions that require memory care. Most residents would stay for months or years, DeBernardo said.

Designs remain preliminary. Four of five city council members said the proposed building would not qualify for extra height under a city rule. The council did not vote on the project. The developer would need to submit a more detailed application, including an environmental review and traffic study, before the council could vote on the project.

The current proposal:

  • Includes 33 parking spaces. Most residents would not own cars, DeBernardo said.
  • Combines adjacent parcels 3720 Capitola Road, which each have a single-family home and an in-law unit. The Bulb Avenue property is part of unincorporated Santa Cruz County rather than the City of Capitola, so city leaders would have to annex the property to approve the project.

Does not include deed-restricted affordable units based on incomes, according to a city staff report. Because the units do not include kitchens, they are not housing units under state law. The lack of kitchens also means that homes in the project would not count toward Capitola’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation, a state-mandated goal for new homes.

A rendering of a proposed Capitola senior living facility. The complex would include 33 parking spaces.

Parking is included in a proposed senior living facility on Capitola Road and Bulb Avenue in Capitola. (Irwin Partners Architects)

The Capitola Road property is zoned for buildings up to 35 feet, smaller than the proposed 50 feet. The project also includes fewer parking spaces than city rules usually allow.

City rules and senior housing

A city rule allows the city council to approve taller buildings and fewer parking spaces on parts of Capitola Road if they provide a “community benefit.” The rule is meant to accommodate  public open space, child care facilities and other features, plus “additional community benefits” not listed. Assisted living is not specified as a community benefit.

When considering an earlier version of the plan in 2022, Capitola planning commissioners said the project does not provide a community benefit as defined in the city rule, and should not qualify for extra height. At Thursday’s city council meeting, developer DeBernardo said the project would provide a community benefit because Capitola has no memory care facilities.

Capitola’s senior community is expanding. Capitola residents ages 65-74 nearly tripled between 2010 and 2020, and that group is expected to grow, according to the city’s Housing Element. The Housing Element of the city’s General Plan was adopted in November 2023 and includes housing development plans for the next eight years. It included a policy to “encourage the development” of senior living facilities, including nursing homes.

Rending of a proposed senior living complex in Capitola.

Some Capitola residents said a proposed four-story assisted living facility is out of scale with the neighborhood. (Irwin Partners Architects)

Pushback from residents

At a 2022 Capitola Planning Commission meeting, the assisted-living proposal included 80 units in a four-story building. More than a dozen residents objected to the plans at the meeting. Many said the planned vehicle entrance on Bulb Avenue would worsen traffic. The new plans include a vehicle entrance and parking lot on Capitola Road. 

At Thursday’s council meeting, 10 residents who live near the proposed building said the project would negatively impact their neighborhood. Several residents said the proposed building was too big to be next to a single-family neighborhood, and would worsen traffic. 

Bulb Avenue resident Jennifer Gallacher objected to the previous version of the project in 2022. 

“Our request was not to move the parking to the front and not have it on Bulb Avenue, it was to not do this development,” Gallacher said. The project should not qualify for extra height as a community benefit because the units likely would be too expensive for many area residents, she said.

A market analysis for the project commissioned by the developer advised against providing affordable units or accepting insurance. DeBernardo, the developer, said in an interview that he has not determined the price of the units or whether the facility would accept insurance.

Vic Clouser, another Bulb Avenue resident, said Bulb Avenue is too narrow to accommodate the facility’s anticipated traffic, including emergency vehicles.

“As you get closer to Capitola Road, it gets narrower and narrower,” he said.

Several residents said the design didn’t include enough parking, and that visitors and staff would likely park on Bulb Avenue. 

Parking concerns

Melisa Pence, an architect for the proposal, said a senior care facility needs much less parking than a housing development. “People with memory care, dementia, do not drive,” she said. “Most people in assisted living also do not drive.” The property meets assisted living industry standards for the ratio between residents and parking spaces, she said.

An assisted living facility would have a lower impact on traffic and parking than apartments or stores, said Councilmember Alexander Pedersen. 

“The only use that is going to be less traffic is if this is developed into single-family housing, which I don’t think is an appropriate use of this land,” Pedersen said at the meeting. 

The project would not need to have a community benefit if it had a building up to 35 feet tall, said Mayor Kristen Brown. 

Four of five council members said they would not support the project as presented, and do not think it qualifies for extra height as a community benefit. Pedersen said the project should qualify as a community benefit, and that the city council shouldn’t try to “perfect every development.” 

“I think we see that with housing a lot, that it’s not perfect in every way, and we end up with no housing or no assisted living,” Pedersen said. 

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Reporter / California Local News Fellow

Jesse Kathan is a staff reporter for Santa Cruz Local through the California Local News Fellowship. They hold a master's degree in science communications from UC Santa Cruz.