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September 22, 2023

144-unit Hillcrest Estate breaks ground

WATSONVILLE—Major groundwork has begun on the 144-home Hillcrest Estate subdivision situated on an 11.27-acre hilltop between Ohlone Parkway and Walker Street above Watsonville Slough. 

“It’s a great boon that we are going to get an additional 144 units for Watsonville residents,” said Watsonville Community Development Department Director Suzi Merriam. “And another plus is that 20% of the homes will fall within affordable homes.”

The detached homes will be two stories tall, while the townhouse-style homes will be three stories. Each unit will feature multiple design variations with a varied range of colors, materials, trims and moldings based on Victorian homes in San Francisco.

The homes will also include various sustainable features such as electric vehicle charging hookups, Energy-star appliances and solar-ready roof areas. They will also include a 2-car garage.

When completed, the neighborhood will feature a community barbecue area, central turf/play areas, a slough trail and a bird watching area.

The developer will build and sell the homes in five phases over the next four years.

Originally approved by the Watsonville City Council in 2018 as Sunshine Vista, Hillcrest Estate has faced a complicated road to this point. The development has seen heavy pushback from neighbors concerned about increased traffic, had troubles with securing funding and multiple times changed project managers. 

Most recently, the development team returned to the council last year to propose a major change to the soil remediation plan. Instead of excavating, hauling and disposing of the top 2-foot layer of soil that was deemed contaminated from the site’s previous use as an auto wrecking yard, the developer proposed removing only the top six inches and burying the remaining 18 inches—roughly 20,000 cubic yards—in a cement-sealed pit on the outskirts of the property. 

The council approved that plan in a 4-3 vote.

A local group filed a complaint to the California Attorney General’s Office against the city of Watsonville and the County of Santa Cruz for advancing a housing project, claiming that the pit would create an environmental hazard for its future residents and a massive liability for the city.

Members of that group have not responded to requests for comment. 

“This is one of the biggest subdivisions we’ve had in our area in a long time,” Merriam said. “We continue to monitor environmental issues with the property closely.”

Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.


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