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July 25-August 1, 2007

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Photograph Courtesy Redtree Properties
Center of Things: The development planned for Santa Cruz's West Side includes a plaza, pictured, along with a transit center, pedestrian-only streets and retail.

A Tale of Two Cities

New Urbanism and New Urbanism Lite come to Santa Cruz County

By Steve Hahn/b>

Imagine waking up in the early dawn, walking down the stairs and being at work. No morning doses of road rage or aggressive panhandling, no elbowing around the breakfast crowd, and best of all, when you forget something at home, you can just run up the stairs and retrieve it.

Or maybe you'd prefer, on a lazy Saturday afternoon, to be able to walk to the store, drop off letters at the post office and pick up your kid from soccer practice, all in less than an hour and without setting foot in a car.

If two of the proposed development projects unveiled last week make it through the planning process, lucky residents in Santa Cruz and Scotts Valley could be facing these appealing scenarios in the next few years.

In Santa Cruz, local developer Redtree Properties is proposing the development over 15 years of a 20-acre plot of land at 2120 Delaware Ave., near the old Lipton plant on the West Side. The plans, heavily informed by the tenets of New Urbanism, call for densely packed commercial units for small and medium businesses on the ground floor supplemented by flats or condominiums on the second and third floors of select buildings, with a limited number of retail shops sprinkled throughout the neighborhood.

In Scotts Valley, the situation is notably different. San Jose developer the Morley Brothers is considering the possibility of converting the 43-acre property currently owned by semiconductor equipment manufacturer Aviza on Kings Village Road into houses, condos and townhouses that would have a symbiotic relationship with the proposed mixed-use Skypark Town Center development nearby.

While these two developments are by no means identical, they share a careful, inclusive approach to planning and subscribe, to different degrees, to the increasingly popular New Urbanism philosophy that emphasizes building high-density, multiuse facilities, public transit routes and pedestrian paths.

Walk the Talk

Both development firms are making their moves slowly and doing their best to ensure that any molehill-type problems that pop up with the city or neighbors are resolved before they become expensive mountains.

In Santa Cruz, a crowd of more than 150 residents and business owners convened by Santa Cruz Neighbors listened on July 17 to Redtree's proposal for the Delaware property.

In Scotts Valley, the Morley Brothers, who are currently going through a 90-day due diligence review process and do not even officially own the property yet, were accompanied by Aviza representatives in a July 18 presentation to the City Council showing three potential residential layouts for the property.

Both of these meetings fit in with a "friendly neighbor" strategy becoming more popular with development firms eager to head off costly disputes at the pass.

"Our approach to development is collaborative in nature, both in terms of the cities and the communities we build in," says Eric Morley, co-owner with brother Sean of Morley Brothers. "We want folks to know what our plans are. We're very open-book."

According to Dale Spencer, vice president of information technology at Aviza, this responsive philosophy is one of the main reasons Morley Brothers was selected to convert the industrial site to residential use.

The developments can also be linked together by one of the chief characteristics of the New Urbanism movement: building neighborhoods in which a range of destinations are within walking distance, thereby reducing the impact on regional traffic patterns.

The Morley Brothers' proposal will create an incentive to walk because of nearby amenities being planned, such as the Skypark Town Center, and those that already exist, such as the community center, park and post office.

A New Urbanism purist might point out that Morley Brothers, on this project, isn't truly working within this tradition since it's proposing only residential units. But the company does specialize in mixed-use projects and is integrating many of those concepts into other projects in progress around the Bay Area. So, purists may ask, why not make this project mixed-use too?

"We hope to create new housing and residences directly adjacent to shopping, retail and resident-serving businesses," Morley responds (emphasis ours). "Residents can walk to retail, the park, the community center and other amenities. This will get people out of their cars."

The Santa Cruz proposal takes this walk-not-drive philosophy a crucial step further, no doubt scoring points with the New Urbanism purists, by adding workplace destinations and pedestrian-only avenues into the mixed development plans. "Obviously when you take a dirt field and build something on it, there are going to be car trips generated," admits Redtree managing director Craig French. "However, if another manufacturing plant were put in, you'd have 500 people arriving at 8am and 500 people leaving at 5pm. If it was a big-box store you'd have huge traffic generated by the retail. But because this is mixed-use, the overall trips will be reduced. People will not be coming and going because they will be [living and working] on-site."

The two projects are also roughly comparable in terms of residential unit density—the benchmark used by urban planners to gauge efficient use of space.

While it's important to note that these are preliminary numbers and that a wide range of factors could cause them to change, the Morley Brothers development in Scotts Valley would accommodate anywhere from 10 to 20 units per acre, according to the tentative plans shown to the council last week, which call for a total of anywhere from 137 to 279 houses, townhouses and condominiums.

With the development proposed for Santa Cruz's West Side there is perhaps even more uncertainty on the question of density because Redtree plans to build the basic infrastructure and then sell the lots off to local businesses or other development firms, which will be able to further subdivide the lots to their liking as long as their plans fit in with Redtree's design guidelines. If the site is fully developed, the residential density will likely be around 13 units per acre.

While this isn't too different from the residential density proposed for the Scotts Valley site, a crucial difference lies in the fact that these residences will also be sitting atop business spaces. As an added bonus, approximately half of the residential units could legally be converted into work/live spaces. So, at the end of the day (in 10 to 15 years), there will be more units overall, potentially just over 300, on 18 acres, which is a smaller plot of land than that proposed for the Scotts Valley site. Some "flex spaces" could be used for both working and living.

The expressed intents of the two projects are also quite distinct. Mark Primack, the local architect working on the 2120 Delaware proposal, worked with French on the plans for the site with the goal of providing a sustainable space allowing businesses to stay in Santa Cruz.

"A lot of businesses get forced out of town for one reason or another, and we want to give them a place to locate," says French. "The hope and objective is to create an area where not just incubators but businesses that are currently in Santa Cruz can survive and grow. You can start in the smallest of increments and be able to build as the growth of your company requires by getting into a building that will allow for that growth."

Back over in Scotts Valley, the focus is on linking retail and recreation with housing needs, while acknowledging that residents may still be driving long distances to work.

"We intend to have our plans be very complementary to and support the town center effort," says Morley. "The site itself is very isolated and not consistent with the site selection criteria of office research and development users of today. From a retail perspective, we don't want to compete with [Skypark]."

Both proposals are in the early stages of the planning process and may go through a number of changes before any buildings go up. The 2120 Delaware project is having its draft environmental impact report (EIR) reviewed by the city. The final EIR is tentatively scheduled to be published in mid-December.

Meanwhile, the Morley Brothers are taking a 90-day due diligence period to review the site and determine exactly how to proceed. If they decide to pursue the residential development, they'll have to apply for a General Plan amendment to rezone the property from industrial to residential.

So don't buy those walking shoes quite yet.

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