SANTA CRUZ >> A movement led by neighbors to save the 61-year-old Circle Church from demolition was dealt a blow Thursday by a city commission decision to not recommend a historic designation for the site.
The city’s historic preservation commission voted 5-0 to not recommend a landmark status or a listing on the historic building survey.
The city hall chambers were filled with dozens of people who spoke. Many opposed a historic designation, in favor of housing at the site. Others in favor of the designation wanted the site to remain as a community center.
The decision is just a recommendation. Ultimately, it’s up to the Santa Cruz City Council to decide. The outcome would impact a housing project proposed for 111 Errett Circle. Plans call for one of two designs:
- 12 single-family houses or
- 10 single-family houses and six townhomes, likely with the maximum number of accessory dwelling units, meaning up to 30 units total.
A historic designation would mean an environmental review, which would hamper the project. The project could still move forward despite a historic designation, if the city council chooses.
WHY THE DECISION?
Commissioner Tracy Bliss said as a matter of policy, it would be unfair to designate the church as a historic site ー a “bait and switch” for the developers who had put much time and energy into “the thoughtfulness of the community.”
“I’m coming from a point of view with total sympathy for those who want their neighborhood to remain a wonderful neighborhood,” Bliss said. “But I think the issues of fairness have totally outweighed that.”
Vice Chair Don Lauritson made a motion to not recommend any historic designation, but to recommend that the council require an open space on the ocean side of the church, with “some kind of focal point” related to the view up from Woodrow Avenue. His motion also recommended historical plaques and that the circular street pattern remain the same.
The commission approved that motion, despite some reservations expressed by Bliss and Commissioner Albert Narath. Commissioners Jessica Kusz and Ross Eric Gibson were absent.
REACTION FROM DEVELOPER
A group of eight families co-founded the developer group Circle of Friends LLC, of which Mark Thomas is a member.
In an interview after the decision, Thomas said that the proposal already included historical plaques and an open space on the ocean side of the church. The group has no plans to change the circular street pattern.
The plan is to have the houses facing outward in a circle, with one “keyhole” lot open at the end of Woodrow Avenue, Thomas said. The group plans to get community input on four historical plaques planned for the north, east, south and west sides of the property.
However, Thomas objected to the commission’s prescription for a “focal point.”
“I thought it was arbitrary and capricious to come up with a design consideration that was not based on the criteria,” Thomas said.
WHAT’S THE HISTORY?
A church was first built on the property in 1889. It burned down in 1935. The city leased the site as a public park for 23 years. The church that’s now at the site began construction in 1958 and opened in 1959.
Christina Dikas, associate principal / senior architectural historian for Page & Turnbull, authored a historical evaluation that found no historical significance for the site. She explained parts of her analysis Thursday night.
She said the current building came after the most important parts of the site’s history.
Other points Dikas made:
- The building didn’t have “particularly distinguishing features” and used mass-produced materials.
- The builder, she said, was not “prolific or recognized” and he constructed large shopping centers, not other churches.
Editor’s note: This post was updated to fix a typo. A church was first built at the 111 Errett Circle property in 1889.
Kara Meyberg Guzman is the CEO and co-founder of Santa Cruz Local. Prior to Santa Cruz Local, she served as the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s managing editor. She has a biology degree from Stanford University and lives in Santa Cruz.