Some Live Oak neighbors raise questions about a 173-unit housing proposal at Soquel Drive and Thurber Lane at a meeting Monday. (Jesse Kathan — Santa Cruz Local)

LIVE OAK >> A Monday night meeting about a proposed five-building housing complex on Soquel Drive drew dozens of residents who lambasted developers about the project’s size, additional traffic and other concerns.

The proposal is on about 6 acres at Soquel Drive and Thurber Lane.

It includes:

  • Five buildings from two to five stories tall.
  • 173 apartments and 273 parking spaces.
  • One-, two- and three-bedroom homes.
  • All “workforce housing,” or deed-restricted affordable housing. Income limits for the homes have not been set.

The proposal is an initial vision for the project, said Rachel Green, director of development services for Sacramento-based developer Anton Development Co. LLC. Developers plan to submit an application to county planners by the end of May. That application could change with feedback from residents, county staff and elected officials, Green said.

“By no means is this going to be a short process,” Green said at Monday’s meeting.

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Manu Koenig — who represents District 1 where the project is proposed – said he expected the meeting to be contentious.

“Obviously we have a big housing need in our community,” Koenig said. “How can we guide this project to be something that you can live with?”

A site plan shows five proposed buildings at Soquel Drive and Thurber Lane. Building A would be four stories, Buildings B and C five stories, Building D three stories and Building E two stories. (Architecture Design Collaborative)

Community concerns

Monday’s meeting at the Congregational Church of Soquel was planned as an open house, but many neighbors circled Green and some demanded a presentation. Green addressed the crowd and answered questions about the project.

“I would like to know what we can do as a community to stop this,” an attendee said.

Many neighbors said the proposed four- and five-story buildings were drastically out of proportion with the surrounding neighborhood of mainly single-family homes and two-story townhomes across Thurber Lane. Many said the new residents would worsen congestion.

“The problem is, we already had a lot of traffic because of [Santa Cruz Gardens Elementary] school, right? And then you’re going to add this at the bottom” of the hill, said Vickie Rutan, a homeowner in a neighborhood adjoining Thurber Lane. “I would have been OK with one or two stories, but I’m not in favor of five stories,” she said.

The development includes about 1.5 onsite parking spaces per apartment, which some attendees said would push households with two or more cars to park on the street. “You’re talking torches and pitchforks from the neighbors,” resident Treysi Hoffmann told Green.

As part of the project, Anton Development also expects to replace street parking along Thurber Lane with a sidewalk and widened bike lanes on both sides of the street.

Expected improvements on Soquel Drive – which include buffered bike lanes, crosswalks with flashing lights and coordinated streetlights – may ease traffic, said Koenig, the county supervisor. Santa Cruz Metro plans to increase service in the area and start a pilot program with free fares.

“I’ve heard plenty of times that people are concerned about parking and traffic in the area,” said Koenig. He’s also heard neighbors request a mixed-use development that includes shops or restaurants, and a path through the green space in the center of the parcel. 

“I do think that there’s room for improving the design,” Koenig said. 

Resident Dawn Andersen, one of few in support of the project at Monday’s meeting, said the affordable housing would be useful for her son who shares a home in Watsonville. A BCycle e-bike station and a car-rental membership like Zipcar could attract residents who don’t own cars and won’t take up parking, she said. 

A Bcycle station on Paul Sweet Road approved in March is about 0.5 miles away from the site.

A proposed Live Oak housing complex includes four- and five-story buildings that would face Thurber Lane. (Architecture Design Collaborative)

Approval process

Developers expect to submit an application in May. The approval process depends on how the developer files the application. Various state laws create different requirements for affordable housing approval, said county spokesperson Jason Hoppin.

The proposal takes advantage of a state law that gives a “density bonus” to projects that include affordable housing. The bonus allows projects to exceed local height and density limits, and loosens other standards, such as a building’s setback from the street.

The 6-acre site is slated for affordable housing in the county’s Housing Element, a state-mandated plan to allow for more housing. The plan approved by county supervisors last year calls for 4,634 new homes in unincorporated Santa Cruz County over the next eight years. 

If the project is considered by the board of supervisors, it likely won’t be rejected outright, Koenig said. That’s partly because state laws restrict the ability of local governments to deny new housing. 

Koenig said if he voted against the project’s approval, he’d likely be outvoted by the rest of the supervisors. 

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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.