A 40-unit apartment complex at 900 High St. was approved by the Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday. (Workbench)

SANTA CRUZ >> A 40-unit apartment complex proposed next to Peace United Church of Christ on High Street was approved by the Santa Cruz City Council on Tuesday. 

Nine of the units are expected to be deed-restricted affordable, with four units for tenants with “very low” incomes and five units for tenants with “low” incomes. A “low” income family of four earns up to $132,100 in Santa Cruz County, based on state-set income limits.

The council voted 6-0-1 to approve the project. Councilmember Scott Newsome recused himself from the vote because he lives within 500 feet of the property. 

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Church leaders said they envisioned the “Peace Village” project in 2016 as a way to provide housing while shoring up the church’s budget. 

“Peace Village is much more than a housing development for us,” said the Rev. David Pattee, pastor of Peace United Church of Christ, at Tuesday’s meeting. “It has long been a part of the mission of (the church) to be a place for the wider community.”

The project is expected to include: 

  • 11 studios.
  • 15 two-bedroom units.
  • Three one-bedroom units.
  • Four three-bedroom units.
  • Six four-bedroom co-living units.
  • One five-bedroom co-living unit. 

Several people at Tuesday’s meeting spoke in favor of the project, including Lola Quiroga of UC Santa Cruz’s Student Housing Coalition. She said student housing was desperately needed. 

“I would love to live there when it’s built,” Quiroga said. “Fingers crossed.”

Appeal removed

The Santa Cruz Zoning Administrator approved the Peace Village project in October. It was appealed to the Santa Cruz Planning Commission, which approved the project in November

The project was again appealed to the city council by Norman Tardif of the Springtree Homeowners Association. Tardif opposed the removal of trees on the property and had geological and zoning concerns, according to the appeal

In response, project leaders told city planners they wanted to change the density calculation to permit the 40 units using state density bonus law on the 2-acre residential parcel. Before Tuesday’s meeting, Tardif told city staff he was satisfied with revisions and no longer wanted to appeal, said Santa Cruz Senior Planner Brittany Whitehill.

Santa Cruz City Councilmember Sandy Brown said she remembered when she first heard of the housing proposal in 2016. She praised church leaders for their determination. More than 22% of the project’s units are deed restricted affordable.

“Your commitment to providing the type of housing we really need in our community to make it affordable — that’s the kind of community I want to live in,” Brown said.

Some trees are expected to be removed for a 40-unit housing complex with views of Monterey Bay. (Tyler Maldonado — Santa Cruz Local)

Some units at Peace Village would have views of Monterey Bay. (Workbench)

Building housing

The project was conceived in 2016 by Peace United church member Jim Weller and colleague Mary Male as a means to support Peace United Church of Christ financially. Its congregation was too small to sustain its costs, according to an internal review.

“You know, our campus was built almost 70 years ago for a congregation three times our size,” he said. “And the buildings have not been maintained as well as they should have been.”

The congregation voted in 2016 to pursue development of some vacant land on their property. Initially, they had trouble finding a developer willing to take on the project in part because of its difficult terrain, Weller said. Potential litigation from neighbors was also a fear, he said. 

“We interviewed everybody we could think of — all the main nonprofit, affordable housing developers and others including Swenson. Nobody was interested in it,” Weller said.

Eventually they entered an agreement with Sibley Simon, managing director of Santa Cruz-based Envision Housing, to develop the property. The church congregation agreed to subdivide part of the land for development and enter into a 99-year ground lease with Envision Peace LLC, a new entity owned primarily by Envision Housing and other local investors. Another company is expected to be created to manage the property, and the church leaders will have an oversight and advisory role.

After a 2019 meeting with their nearest neighbors in the UCSC faculty townhomes adjoining the property, they decided to start over to address those concerns. In 2022, they hired Workbench to redesign the project. A new design was submitted to city planners in November 2022. 

“We think this project could be a model for other projects where the owner of the land is a nonprofit organization or church and is willing to contribute the land to the project without any upfront payment, which increases the cost advantage,” said Weller. “We think we’ve created something that can be replicated.”

Apartments are expected to be built near Peace United Church of Christ, downhill from these townhomes at UC Santa Cruz. (Tyler Maldonado — Santa Cruz Local)

Correction: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the housing density changes to satisfy the appeal. 

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Tyler Maldonado holds a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley. He writes about housing, homelessness and the environment. He lives in Santa Cruz County.