A three-story, 40-unit housing complex is one of two live oak apartment proposals that take advantage of the Builder's Remedy.

A three-story, 40-unit apartment complex is proposed at 841 Capitola Road in Live Oak. (Workbench)

Editor’s note: The housing proposal at 841 Capitola Road was reduced to 28 units on May 2, the developer said. For more updates, view Santa Cruz Local’s Housing and Construction page

LIVE OAK >> Two new housing developments in Santa Cruz County are set to exceed local height limits and could be approved without public input, county officials said this week. 

Santa Cruz-based developer Workbench has submitted plans for a six-story apartment building on Paul Sweet Road in Live Oak and a three-story apartment building on Capitola Road in Live Oak. 

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Because of a state rule known as the Builder’s Remedy, neither the Santa Cruz County Planning Commission nor the county board of supervisors are expected to consider the two projects. Instead, they will be evaluated by county staff who have very limited ability to change the developments. 

The two proposed projects are:

  • A six-story building with 84 apartments at 3500 Paul Sweet Road. It is next to the 206-unit Dominican Oaks retirement community and a few blocks north of Dominican Hospital.
  • A three-story building with 40 apartments at 841 Capitola Road. The area mainly has single-family homes.

The developer of both proposals, Santa Cruz-based Workbench, plans to submit full applications for both projects by the end of June, Workbench CEO Tim Gordin wrote in an email. 

Both proposals take advantage of the Builder’s Remedy. It is part of a state law that allows developers to bypass some local zoning rules under certain conditions — often if a county or city does not have a certified Housing Element of its General Plan. 

Workbench leaders have not said how many units would be deed-restricted affordable in both proposals. Builder’s Remedy rules require at least 20% of the homes in each project to be affordable and rented to tenants based on state income limits.

A six-story, 84-unit housing complex is one of two live oak apartment proposals that take advantage of the Builder's Remedy.

An apartment complex is proposed at 3500 Paul Sweet Road in Live Oak. This developer’s rendering shows a four-story complex, but the proposal is now for a six-story complex of a similar design. (Workbench)

Why larger projects are proposed

The Housing Element of the General Plan is a local government’s eight-year plan to allow for more housing development. 

Santa Cruz County was required to have its most recent Housing Element certified by state authorities in December. The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors accepted the state’s conditional certification of the county’s Housing Element on April 9, four months past the deadline. 

Because the certification was late, it had opened the door to developers to propose larger-than-normal housing projects under Builder’s Remedy rules. Similar proposals have happened in the cities of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Barbara and many other cities and counties in the state.

Leaders from Workbench submitted development pre-applications before Santa Cruz County’s Housing Element was approved. The project must now be considered under Builder’s Remedy rules, said Santa Cruz County spokesperson Jason Hoppin. 

Because the county’s Housing Element has been certified, no more Builder’s Remedy proposals will be considered in unincorporated Santa Cruz County.

Developers can still submit projects under Builder’s Remedy rules in Capitola and Watsonville until their Housing Elements are certified. Neither city has received applications that take advantage of the rule, staff of those cities said.

A lot at 3500 Paul Sweet Road in Live Oak now includes at least one home and two smaller structures. They could be replaced by a six-story building. (Jesse Kathan — Santa Cruz Local)

Approval process

Many Santa Cruz County housing developments take advantage of state laws that restrict elected officials’ ability to block or change developments. But the Builder’s Remedy goes even further to restrict local control, bypassing elected leaders altogether.

County staff can request changes to the project, but the developer “can say thanks, but no thanks,” Hoppin said. 

State law outlines some exceptions to Builder’s Remedy, but none are applicable to the two proposed sites, Hoppin said.

A house stands at 841 Capitola Road.

A single-family home at 841 Capitola Road could be replaced by a three-story building with 40 apartments. (Jesse Kathan — Santa Cruz Local)

Thurber Lane housing proposal

Separate from the two Builder’s Remedy projects, another large housing proposal is in the works on Thurber Lane a few blocks east of Dominican Hospital. 

Five apartment buildings are proposed on roughly 6 acres at the northeast corner of Thurber Lane and Soquel Drive. The project has been described as affordable housing, but the number of proposed units and other details were not yet available. 

Developers from Anton Thurber LLC plan to have a community meeting on the proposal at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 29 at the Congregational Church of Soquel, 4951 Soquel Drive, Soquel. 

“Join the meeting to learn more about the proposed development, ask questions, and give your feedback,” staff of Santa Cruz County Supervisor Manu Koenig wrote in a statement.

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Reporter / California Local News Fellow | + posts

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.