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Santa Cruz reverses course, votes to move forward on first SB 35 development with 831 Water Street

The decision, a reverse of the council’s original Oct. 12 vote, helped the city avoid what could have been costly litigation from the developer or others. The project is also the first in the city of Santa Cruz under SB 35 guidelines meant to streamline developments that provide affordable housing units.

The What: The 831 Water housing development proposal — half of which is affordable housing — was officially approved Tuesday in a 4-3 vote by the Santa Cruz City Council.

The So What: The decision, a reverse of the council’s original Oct. 12 vote, helped the city avoid what could have been costly litigation from the developer or others. The project, proposed for the lot at 831 Water Street and North Branciforte Avenue, would include a 50-50 split of 140 market-rate and affordable units. The project is also the first in the city of Santa Cruz under the guidelines meant to streamline developments that provide affordable housing units as set out in Senate Bill 35.

Backgrounder: First submitted by Novin Development in July, the project has gone through many iterations following community feedback. Some neighbors in the vicinity of the site claimed the project would lead to issues of traffic congestion, increased noise and environmental concerns.

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Some of those concerns were further elucidated by councilmembers themselves, leading to their original denial.

Voices: Public comment was largely made up of supporters for the project and those who would likely be eligible for the affordable housing units: UC Santa Cruz students, low-income renters, and union members.

“I really hope that, even if you don’t agree to move forward with approving this application, that you will stand up for renters in this community,” said Santa Cruz YIMBY lead Elizabeth Conlan.

Michael Wool, a Santa Cruz County native affiliated with the UCSC Student Housing Coalition, implored the council to approve the project for students like himself as well as for the city’s unhoused population.

“It is an embarrassment that that many people are suffering at the hands of our county,” he said. “I have never seen it this bad ... we’ve got to approve more projects like this.”

Some opponents to the project called in as well, with one noting issues about water use for the project and another voicing concern over the bike lane along the development.

“I have not seen anything addressing the objective standards we’ve established — there are 51,000 opportunities to have a head-on collision there ... please reconsider and reevaluate this project,” said Santa Cruz resident Candice Brown.

What’s next: With the approval, the project can now apply for building permits, with construction likely to begin mid-2022.

Developer Iman Novin said he was “super excited” by the community support during the Tuesday meeting and said he will continue to work to refine the project.

“We’re looking forward to keeping open dialogue and getting some affordable housing built,” he said. “We hope that future applications will benefit from the robust discussions we’ve had ... we feel like this was a good learning experience for everyone involved.”