A rendering of the 418 Pennsylvania Ave. development in the Seabright neighborhood.
A rendering of the residential development approved for 418 Pennsylvania Ave. in the Seabright neighborhood. Many neighbors oppose the project, saying it is too large for the lot.
(Courtesy city of Santa Cruz)

Battle over 418 Pennsylvania Ave. rental development in Seabright ends with project approval

Developer Workbench got the Santa Cruz City Council’s OK on the project this week, despite complaints from neighbors about the trio of planned three-story units .

A trio of tightly spaced residential buildings proposed by developer Workbench and approved by city staff in October won final approval from the Santa Cruz City Council this week despite strong opposition from residents in the Seabright neighborhood.

The development is slated for 418 Pennsylvania Ave., a 0.2-acre lot that now has a single-family home and an unpermitted accessory dwelling unit. Workbench’s plans call for the home to be renovated, the ADU to be demolished and three townhome-style buildings — each containing three bedrooms and a two-car garage — to be built.

Each building would be 2,365 square feet, including 498-square-foot garages. The renovated house would be leased to someone who meets affordable-housing income thresholds. The three townhome buildings would be leased to market-rate renters.

Neighbors for months have been expressing a litany of grievances about the project, which came before the city council on Tuesday. Among them: the development would be too burdensome for the area, the design doesn’t match the area, the proposed structures are too large for the lot, and that the project would block sunlight to nearby properties. Others argued the homes would generate additional street parking and traffic, and that there wouldn’t been enough driveway space for vehicles to back up.

In all, the city received 56 letters about the development, 45 of them opposing it.

Typically, members of the public have several opportunities to comment on proposed developments before they are approved. In the case of 418 Pennsylvania Ave., a community meeting wasn’t required because the project is smaller than five units, city staff said. The proposal also is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act — an added layer of bureaucracy that requires extra approvals — since the units will be built on a lot that was already developed for residential use and is not in an environmentally sensitive zone.

After the project was approved by staff in October, residents, led by Beth Purcell, filed an appeal in November. The planning commission considered the appeal on Dec. 3, voting 4-3 to approve it, but adding two conditions meant to make the development more palatable to neighbors: reducing the floor-to-floor height to nine feet and relocating second-floor balconies to the south so they would not overlook neighboring homes.

A rendering of the three-bedroom units to be built at 418 Pennsylvania Ave. in Santa Cruz.
A rendering of the three-bedroom units to be built at 418 Pennsylvania Ave. in Santa Cruz. The project was approved by city staff in October.
(Courtesy city of Santa Cruz Planning Department)

Purcell and the residents then filed an appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision on Dec. 14.

On Tuesday, when the development came before the City Council, staff insisted the project met all necessary “objective standards” outlined in the general plan, which is basically a developer’s checklist of must-haves. Because of that, and because of state law created to mitigate California’s housing crisis, the city’s hands are tied: Officials can’t force the developer make design changes, such as shortening buildings, if it would reduce the amount of housing to be built.

Neighbors, represented on Tuesday by Seabright resident Travis Tinsey, insisted the city had control — and that planning commission staff had incorrectly determined the project to be in compliance with local guidelines. City attorney Tony Condotti advised council members that the development could face legal challenges no matter what decision the city made, since both sides could claim the city misinterpreted state law and local rules in the approval process.

During the final vote — 5-2 with council members Sandy Brown and Justin Cummings in opposition — several leaders said they understood the neighbors’ concerns, but had to follow state law and staff guidance, and approve the project.

Go Deeper
  • General
    Read the appeal
    After the 418 Pennsylvania Ave. project was approved by city staff and the Planning Commission, neighbors organized in opposition. You can read the full letter of appeal on the city website.