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April 19, 2021

City Council approves 103 new apartments, more than half ‘affordable’

WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville City Council approved two housing developments at its Tuesday night meeting, paving the way for 103 new apartments on two of the city’s major arterial roads.

Both projects nearly received unanimous approvals. Bill and Neva Hansen’s 50-unit, market-rate apartment complex on Main Street, dubbed The Residence, got the OK from all seven council members. But Eden Housing’s 53-unit affordable housing complex on an 1.8 acre lot on Freedom Boulevard passed by a 6-1 vote, with Mayor Jimmy Dutra dissenting.

Dutra, the representative for the district that the project lies in, said he voted against the nonprofit developer’s plans because of mounting parking woes and other concerns raised by the residents of the Atkinson Lane area.

He also worried that those affordable units would not directly benefit Watsonville residents, and that the county’s southernmost city has shouldered the load for most of the area’s affordable housing projects.

“People are taking advantage of us and that’s a big problem for me,” he said.

Though both projects gained approval, some council members were not entirely satisfied with either project. Some wondered if the 20 percent affordability requirement on all new development should be pushed to 25 percent across the city—and possibly higher in some areas such as downtown. Others council members—and members of the public—said the city needed to find ways to make sure new housing units do directly benefit Watsonville residents.

1482 Freedom Blvd.

In order to carry the project to completion, Eden Housing, as all other nonprofit developers do, has had to take loans from various entities. The city, for example, loaned $1 million from its Successor Agency Housing Fund. That loan will be paid back over 30 years.

It also took a $2 million loan from the Housing Trust Silicon Valley. Some of those funds came from Dignity Health and TECH Fund, the Housing Trust’s investment arm that allows greater Bay Area entities to invest in affordable housing. TECH Fund investors include Cisco, the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, Google, The Grove Foundation and LinkedIn.

In addition, Eden took a $9 million dollar loan from the Housing Authority, says Associate Director of Real Estate Development Jane Barr, and because of that it must fill 37 of the proposed 53 units—52 affordable apartments and a manager’s unit—with people on the Housing Authority’s waiting list that qualify for federal housing assistance vouchers. Six of those units must go to residents currently in the county’s Smart Path program, which helps people and families that are experiencing homelessness. Some units must also go to people with disabilities.

Although a good portion of the people on the Housing Authority’s waiting list are from Watsonville, Barr said there is no guarantee that Watsonville residents will be the primary beneficiaries of this project.

Eden, Barr said, will work with the city to fill the other units with people working in the agricultural industry.

The apartments will be open to households with an annual income between $23,000-66,000. A single-person household will pay $580-1,240 a month for a 1-bedroom apartment, and a four-person household will pay $860-1,720 for a 3-bedroom apartment. The project would provide 11 1-bedroom, 26 2-bedroom and 14 3-bedroom units over two three-story structures.

The development will also come equipped with a community center, computer room, offices, laundry, playground and recreational areas. It will also come with 100 parking spaces spread out over two single-story lots off Atkinson Lane. In addition, it will also be just steps away from a bus stop on Freedom Boulevard.

Because of relaxed state regulations on housing construction thanks to Senate Bill 35, Eden did not need to provide a traffic study or meet any other California Environmental Quality Act requirements.

558 Main St.

The Residence will be four stories tall, include 10 affordable units and feature about 2,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor. It will also come equipped with a small dog park and a courtyard for residents.

There will be six two-bedroom units, 29 one-bedroom units and 15 studios. Market rate apartments will range from $1,750-2,650 per month, according to the project’s website. That includes internet access, cable television and utilities. The affordable units will include median, low, very low and Section 8 rates, as written into the city’s housing ordinance.

The Watsonville Planning commission recommended the approval of The Residence by a 5-1 vote in January—one seat sat vacant. Commissioner Ed Acosta was the lone “no” vote. He voiced concern about the proposed entrance and exit from the 56-space, ground-level parking lot of the complex, a 20-foot alleyway running behind the East Fifth Plaza and that spills out onto Brennan Street.

He said that adding more traffic to that already busy area would be an “accident waiting to happen.”

In order to gain approval the Hansens needed to make several improvements to the alleyway. That included installing lane striping and several signs, as well as a sound and light alert system for pedestrians and a convex mirror for drivers to better see oncoming traffic.

There was also confusion about the secondary access route to the property’s parking lot. According to Hansen and city staff, an existing easement would allow residents to enter and exit through the parking lot off East Lake Avenue that runs behind several Main Street properties. But Edward Newman, a lawyer representing the owner of that lot at 13 East Lake Ave., disputed that the easement existed at the Planning Commission January meeting. Hansen on Tuesday said that the dispute has been resolved.

It is expected to be completed by summer 2023, Hansen said.

Tony Nuñez
Tony Nuñez
Managing Editor Tony Nuñez is a longtime member of the Watsonville community who served as Sports Editor for five years before entering his current role in 2019. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College and San Jose State University alumnus, he covers the city, business, housing, entertainment and more.

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