Food Bin and Herb Room project to prioritize tenants without cars, widen sidewalks

Tuesday's virtual meeting regarding the Food Bin and Herb Room redevelopment project.
(Via City of Santa Cruz)

Representatives from builder Workbench and owners of the Food Bin and Herb Room hosted a community meeting Tuesday to discuss the Santa Cruz redevelopment project. Attendees raised concerns about neighborhood impacts, pedestrian safety and building size, and meeting hosts explained that it’s a balancing act between maintaining the current environment and attempting to reach state and local housing goals.

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Santa Cruz residents tuned in Tuesday to the City of Santa Cruz’s first virtual community meeting on a project to redevelop the Food Bin and Herb Room into a mixed-use housing and commercial space.

The proposed development on the corner of Mission Street and Laurel Street includes demolishing the current Food Bin and Herb Room buildings, which are in poor shape and would require significant, costly repairs such as new roofs and flood mitigation infrastructure. In their places would be a 42,849-square-foot, five-story building, with 3,403 square feet of ground-floor commercial space — which will hold a combined version of the Food Bin and Herb Room — and 59 single-room-occupancy units on the floors above.

Doug Wallace and his wife, Peggy Eulensen, own the Food Bin and Herb Room. At the meeting, Wallace said the project concept revolved around three main goals: providing a long-term, sustainable home for the stores, creating housing, and maintaining a community meeting space with the new store layouts.

“The emphasis is to create something unique, but to maintain some of the fun and character of the Food Bin and Herb Room in a little more of a polished environment,” he said.

Though the Food Bin and Herb Room intend to stay in the same location — and the businesses’ owners are developers on the project — much of the public input touched on the common concerns of parking congestion, pedestrian safety and building size. The meeting did not feature a call-in Q&A session. Instead, virtual attendees sent written questions via the Zoom chat, and the hosts answered questions as they moved through the presentation.

Santa Cruz-based building company Workbench is leading the development. Workbench founding partner and principal architect Jamileh Cannon said the current plan prioritizes renting to people without cars. While the Food Bin’s current 14 customer parking spots will likely be retained, Cannon said it’s likely only a few more spaces could be added — and thus unlikely that the 59 housing units will come with additional parking spaces.

“I don’t think we can do a lot to control visitors who are coming to the building, but we can definitely enforce that tenants and residents of the building don’t have cars,” she said. “They can’t get permits on the side streets and there’s no parking in the building for them.”

Workbench Creative Director Elizabeth Bishop added that the plan aims to appeal to a less car-dependent environment. “The way we imagine it is more parking causes more traffic, which causes more impact on the community,” she said.

Workbench architect Omar Hason responded to concerns about sidewalk and pedestrian safety, particularly regarding the worry that walkable space will impede sidewalk access. He explained that sidewalks on Mission Street will be widened to about 12 feet, and the sidewalk along Laurel Street will be widened to about 6 to 8 feet.

The project’s height and potential impacts on the neighborhood remained key points of concern among attendees. Workbench Development Project Manager Belal Kaddoura said that due to the pressing need for more housing locally and across the state, developers and designers have to make difficult choices. The city’s planning commission will meet Thursday to vote on the city’s plan to greenlight 3,700 new units by 2031 to meet Santa Cruz’s state-ordered regional housing needs allocation. In total, the state has mandated that Santa Cruz County add nearly 13,000 new housing units over the next eight years.

A rendering of the proposed development at Mission and Laurel streets in Santa Cruz where the Food Bin & Herb Room now sit.
A rendering of the proposed development at Mission and Laurel streets in Santa Cruz.
(Via City of Santa Cruz)

“People in our position are trying to provide impactful amounts of housing to the communities,” Kaddoura said. “It’s definitely tough to get a project built like this without sort of impacting neighborhoods, but the city and state have goals to meet.”

In response to an anonymous attendee asking for Wallace and Eulensen’s take on the development affecting nearby communities, Eulensen noted the inevitability of the rapid change within the city. “We know this is going to happen, and we’re really trying to make it pretty, user-friendly, and as environmentally sound as we can get it,” she said.

“We know it has an impact on the neighborhood, we totally get that. But it’s going to happen either by us or by someone else.”

Wallace added: “It’s kind of Santa Cruz 2.0 or 3.0, and I think a lot of people aren’t ready for that, but we have to be.”

The project would use the density bonus and concessions — legal statutes allowing developers to deviate from typical design standards — to exceed limitations on the distance required between the structure and property line, as well as limitations on the building’s proportion of usable floor area to the total area of the site. That will allow for the currently planned 66-foot building height and five stories rather than the maximum of 35 feet and three stories allowed by Santa Cruz County Code.

The project is still in the pre-application stage, but once a formal application is submitted, city staff will review the project in detail, said city senior planner Ryan Bane. The city planning commission will then evaluate the application and consider whether to move the project forward.


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