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Senior Center Shuffle

[whitespace] Senior Center
Dai Sugano

Legal Limbo: What was supposed to be a new senior center in Capitola may end up as retail space.

Redtree Properties has halted construction on the new Mid-County Senior Center and is threatening to deep-six the deal if it loses in court

By John Yewell

IN A MOVE THAT TOOK some Capitola development observers by surprise, Redtree Properties has threatened to back out of a deal to provide a new Mid-County Senior Center if a legal challenge forces it to redesign a proposed shopping center expansion on Bay Avenue.

A critical part of the project is a million-dollar land swap deal with the MCSC to relocate the senior center in order to accommodate the expansion, which would amount to a doubling of the size of the current center.

The Capitola City Council approved the plan last year. Opponents sued on environmental grounds, but agreed to allow Redtree to continue with construction of the new senior center. The building was nearly completed when, on March 19, Superior Court Judge Richard McAdams dropped a bombshell and ruled in opponents' favor.

Redtree was allowed under its agreement with its legal foes to go ahead with the senior center deal, but chose to put construction on hold while the court case goes forward. Most of the remaining work seems to be on the interior.

At a meeting of the Capitola Redevelopment Agency July 1, Redtree spokesperson and former Capitola City Councilmember Mick Routh said Redtree has put the deal on indefinite hold.

"There is no new senior center at this point in time, and there may never be," Routh said, "unless the current application is approved and the court system and the appeals or whatever it takes to approve that application occurs."

Routh said there would likely be no effort to accommodate the new senior center if the courts order Redtree to redesign the project.

"Redtree has pulled the plug on that building," Routh told planning commissioners. "If it doesn't occur in the future that the center is approved through the court system, that will not be a senior center."

If Redtree appeals McAdams' order, an action considered likely by observers, it could take a year, meaning it could be at least that long--if ever--before seniors get to move into their new building.

Abandonment Issues

THE PLANNING commission meeting was called to review the conditional use permit for the senior center to determine whether it would create an intensified use of the parking area. Redtree opponents also contend that use of the nearby county Office of Education building for training seminars has already resulted in a parking crunch that has not been accounted for in Redtree's parking plans or in the environmental impact report for the shopping center expansion.

In an interview, Routh contended that Redtree was not holding the seniors' new facility hostage to the current project, although it appeared the developer was ruling out inclusion of the new senior center in any possible redesign of the shopping center.

"The finances of creating a senior center don't pencil out if it [the current proposal] doesn't get approval," Routh said. "My guess is, if an appeal isn't successful, there will be an alternative plan to develop something else on the property, and the [property] exchange would be history."

Routh said Redtree would probably propose a smaller commercial or retail building on the parcel next to Highway 1 with its own parking facilities, leaving the old senior center where it is and abandoning the attempt to integrate the existing shopping center into a new development. Instead of becoming a senior center, Routh said, the nearly completed building would probably "be converted to a retail use."

Routh also confirmed that the nearby Quintarelli Building, slated for demolition and replacement under the disputed development plan, is again accepting tenants--a recognition that the current court fight is likely to take a while. One small software firm has already moved in, he said.

The agreement with the senior center board of directors on the land swap and new building expires Oct. 15. Despite the threat to abandon the deal, Routh thought the terms would be renewed--just in case Redtree prevails in court.

"Last I heard a few months ago"--after the March 19 ruling, he said--"was that there was going to be an effort to extend the agreement," Routh said.

MCSC president Margaret Keirn declined to comment on Redtree's threat to back out of the deal.

Stipulate This

AN EARLY VERSION of the contract between MCSC and Redtree, obtained by Metro Santa Cruz, reveals that Redtree's obligation to consummate the deal is contingent on "Redtree's receipt of all necessary governmental permits, approvals and entitlements and financing for the development and expansion of the Shopping Center, the creation of the New Senior Parcel and the construction of the New Senior Center"--in other words, on approval of the current project design.

Some project opponents, speaking on background, thought they recalled Redtree officials remarking during public hearings that the senior center deal would be honored regardless of the fate of the current plan. Any plan that calls for a comprehensive redesign of the shopping center would depend on relocation of the old senior center.

A review of the hearing transcripts turned up no verbal commitment--in fact, there was one clear warning.

According to a transcript of an Aug. 6 public hearing, Redtree general partner Doug Ley told the City Council that construction of the senior center depended on approval of the current project.

"Scaling it back will mean no new senior center," Ley said.

Attorney Bill Parkin, who represents the four-group coalition suing Redtree, says the lawsuit is not holding up the deal.

"We're not the impediment to the senior center going forward," Parkin says.

After a round of phone calls to his clients, Parkin says they are prepared to allow the new senior center deal to be completed, regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit. Such an agreement is known in legal terms as a "stipulation."

"Certainly we would be willing to stipulate to that if there was no quid pro quo for other parts of the development, and as long as they meet the conditions as approved by the city."

But, he says, "I haven't been approached by Redtree, the city or the senior center.

"The shell is completed," Parkin continues. "No one suggests it should come down, so it just makes sense to do it."

Parkin was puzzled by the Redtree action.

"I think it's interesting that Redtree hasn't asked me about that," he said.

The threat is just the latest Redtree switcheroo. In 1996, after the developer proposed to bring in Borders Books and Music as a tenant--causing local bookstore supporters to protest--Redtree quietly dropped the idea, only to revive it six months ago after the project had been approved.

In 1998, after being told by the Capitola City Council in 1996 to scale back the project by 25 percent, Redtree returned with a reconfigured design which was essentially the same size.

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From the July 14-21, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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