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June 12, 2021

Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore moving to downtown Watsonville

WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville Planning Commission at its Tuesday meeting unanimously approved an application from Habitat For Humanity to fill a vacant portion of a large building on the 500 block of Main Street. 

Formerly home to a bounce house business, the 555 Main St. location adjacent to Bank of America will soon house one of the national nonprofit’s  secondhand shops, ReStore. 

Habitat For Humanity Monterey Bay CEO Satish Rishi said the new downtown Watsonville ReStore will replace its location on the west side of Santa Cruz. The Monterey Bay arm of the organization also has a ReStore location in Seaside.

Through ReStore, Habitat For Humanity sells a variety of household items, including furniture, building materials, hardware and appliances. More than half of their items, Rishi said, are new, donated materials that they sell at largely discounted prices.

Habitat For Humanity, among other things, helps build homes for low-income families. It has built 55 homes throughout the Central Coast, and is in the process of building more units in Watsonville on Airport Road.

The downtown location is roughly 9,400 square feet. The approval came with the option to expand into the remaining 20,000 square feet of the building, which also houses Ramos Furniture. Rishi said they could take over the rest of the building as early as May 2022.

But the Planning Commission’s approval will only last for five years. Then, Habitat For Humanity will need to reapply to continue its operations, a recommendation from city staff that they say will keep the property flexible for potential revitalization efforts after the Downtown Specific Plan is finalized.

George Ow, a well-known developer in Santa Cruz County and the greater Bay Area whose family owns the property, said he would redevelop the location when the time is right. His family also owns the adjoining parking lot at 535 Main St.

“We are working with the city to have that [be] a major project at some point, when the market is there, when the city is ready and we’re ready,” he said.

Habitat for Humanity received written support from the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County, Second Harvest Food Bank and Community Bridges.

Dependent on volunteers for much of its labor, the ReStore will only bring three full-time jobs and two other part-time jobs, according to the staff report. But if things go well, Rishi said, the expansion could mean additional staff would be hired.

Housing project splits commission 

The Planning Commission also recommended the City Council deny various resolutions that would allow the construction of a planned 21-townhome development on Airport Boulevard.

The project, if approved by the City Council at a future meeting, would redevelop a 1.57-acre lot at 547 Airport Blvd. into much needed homes for the densely populated city. That would include three “affordable” homes—one at the above-moderate income level, one at the median income level and one at the low income level.

The site sits adjacent to the Airport Boulevard-Aviation Way intersection, and currently houses a single-family home and a rebar processing business that would be demolished.

Several commissioners voiced concerns about the project’s one-way-in, one-way-out entrance, limited parking spaces (58, including 16 visitor spots) and potentially toxic soil left from the previous industrial use.

The developer did not show up to Tuesday’s meeting to present and answer questions.

The Planning Commission voted 4-3 to recommend approval, but the motion failed because it required a supermajority of five votes. Commissioners Gina Cole, Daniel Dodge and Veronica Dorantes-Pulido voted “no.”

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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