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A strip mall on Water Street and Branciforte Avenue in Santa Cruz could be transformed into a five-story apartment complex with ground-floor retail space and a rooftop bar, under a proposal developers plan to submit to the city.

The 831 Water Street project would give the city 151 new housing units, most of them studios and more than half affordable units, according to preliminary designs presented in a community meeting on Jan. 27 that about 200 people attended.

Although developers have not yet submitted an application for the project, community meetings are intended to give city staff and constituents a chance to suggest changes.

During the first forum, several neighbors expressed concern about the size and scale of the project, especially considering its location in a mostly one-story residential area. Others feared how the large buildings and additional traffic could affect quality of life (and sunlight) in the neighborhood, or create congestion and parking issues on nearby streets.

See a comparison below of what the spot looks like now and what is proposed by developers:


The 77 affordable units would include 47 units for very-low-income renters, as well as low-income and moderate-income units. Affordable housing units would range in size from 338-sq. ft. studios to 624-sq. ft. one-bedroom apartments. The remaining apartments in the pair of five-story buildings would be “workforce housing” — studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments with rents below market rate for people earning 80% to 120% of area median income, according to Novin Development.

Initial designs showed affordable and workforce units in separate buildings, but those plans could change once the project is submitted to the city, since inclusionary housing units must be evenly distributed throughout a development, Principal Planner Samantha Haschert said.

A preliminary rendering of the pair of five-story apartment buildings that could be built at 831 Water St. in Santa Cruz.
A preliminary rendering of the pair of five-story apartment buildings that could be built at 831 Water St. in Santa Cruz. The project has not been submitted to the city for approval. Credit: Courtesy city of Santa Cruz, Novin Development

Because the proposal includes affordable housing, the project is eligible for more total units and taller structures — 59-foot-tall buildings instead of the 40-foot threshold set for the area. As it weaves its way through bureaucratic processes, Novin Development is also relying on faster approvals under a state law, SB 35, that’s meant to help quickly create more affordable housing in California.

Commercial space

Two commercial features of the 831 Water Street proposal make it open to more than just tenants: a rooftop cafe-lounge-bar and ground-floor retail space.

On the first floor, there would be 9,000-sq. ft. of retail space at the corner of Water Street — similar to what exists now in the strip mall that contains DJ’s Mini Mart, a MetroPCS store and a massage parlor. The current tenants of the site would have the option to move into the new structure, the developers said.

READ THE STORY: Santa Cruz reverses course, votes to move forward on first SB 35 development with 831 Water Street
READ THE STORY: Credit: Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz

On the roof of one building, developers propose a 2,300-sq. ft. “lounge space” with greenery, seating and views of the ocean which would be privately owned but publicly accessible. A covered, outdoor bar area would sit on the south side of the building and be surrounded by planters in order to make it less visible from the street and to increase privacy for neighbors.

The city police and planning departments are also reviewing the proposed rooftop bar to determine whether it’s an appropriate use at 831 Water Street, and what risks it could create.

The roof is one of various shared spaces developers plan to build around the property. A large community room would provide computer access and other services to tenants, according to the plans.

A vision of the what the rooftop at 831 Water St. could look like.
A vision of the what the rooftop at 831 Water St. could look like. Credit: Courtesy city of Santa Cruz, Novin Development


This project also includes a couple dozen street-level parking spaces for businesses and a below-ground parking garage with capacity for 141 vehicles. A modern parking technology called “stacking” would be used to fit more vehicles into a single parking space by stacking them on top of one another, the developer said. There will also be two bicycle storage rooms with space for up to 132 bikes on-site.

The Santa Cruz Public Works Department found that a traffic study would need to be done to analyze parking and on-site traffic, driveway access on Water Street and other issues. A right-turn lane southbound on North Branciforte Avenue would also be needed to account for traffic stemming from the development, according to a report from city staff.

What’s next?

The developers will host a second community meeting in coming weeks, but it had not been scheduled as of Feb. 5. Once the project is formally pitched to the city, the planning commission and city council will have to sign off on it. The project could also face additional scrutiny under the California Environmental Quality Act. There will be opportunities for public comment at each step along the way.

Follow Isabella Cueto on: Twitter. Isabella joins the Lookout team as a government accountability reporter, building on her experience covering local government for The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C.Before...