WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville Planning Commission on Tuesday unanimously voted against granting a special use permit for a proposed business park at Main Street and Auto Center Drive.
Boos Development Group, Inc. was seeking the permit so that it could construct two drive-throughs alongside roughly 20,000 square feet of new commercial space on the 3.05-acre site at 975-1075 Main Street—the former home of Mi Ranchito Supermercado and Taqueria Mundial.
Engineer Robert Karn, of Robert A. Karn and Associates, said the drive-throughs were essential in order for the project to secure high-paying tenants.
“At this point, our project needs the drive-throughs to function,” he said.
Both drive-throughs, according to City of Watsonville staff, met the city’s regulations but the commissioners were opposed to adding another drive-through to a city that already struggles with obesity and pedestrian/cyclist safety.
“This town doesn’t really have a fast-food problem or caffeine problem, it’s got a housing problem, and it’s got a vehicle vs. pedestrian and vehicle vs. bicyclist problem,” Vice-Chair Matthew Jones said. “I would like to see a project that incorporates those issues, that goes out of its way to try to solve some of those issues… It’s time to think outside the box a little bit.”
Boos, which submitted the application and is handling the development on behalf of property owner Santa Cruz Seaside Company, has 14 workdays to appeal to the city council.
If appealed, the city council would have its say in early 2020.
The project called for the new commercial space to be spread out over three one-story buildings of varying sizes. The proposal featured multiple shops and restaurants with outdoor seating for customers, as well as a trio of bike racks and 143 parking spaces.
It also included upgrades to the existing pedestrian and cyclist trail in front of the lot that leads down Main Street to Ramsay Park.
The commission had concerns about the safety of pedestrians and cyclists that would use the trail, which would intersect with the two entrances and exits on the property, and the added carbon emissions that could come from idling cars in the drive-throughs.
About a half-dozen members of the public echoed those concerns, including Mayor Pro-Tem Rebecca Garcia.
“Drive-throughs mean idling cars, idling cars mean more carbon dioxide,” said Garcia, who will be Mayor next year. “The city already has numerous fast-food drive-throughs and banks with drive-throughs. We do not need to add carbon to the city by adding two more drive-throughs…In contrary to what the developer says, I would expect that those businesses would still thrive and contribute to the economic development of Watsonville.”
The previous businesses left the property in late 2018 after the Santa Cruz Seaside Company, which also owns the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and its ancillary attractions such as Cocoanut Grove and the Boardwalk Bowl, started its redevelopment plans.
The buildings at the property were demolished earlier this year after the City of Watsonville deemed they were creating “life and safety concerns” because of homeless encampments within the vacant structures.