WATSONVILLE—A 150-unit housing development off Ohlone Parkway received a two-year extension from the Watsonville City Council at Tuesday’s meeting.
The extension gives developer Lisa Li and new project manager John Fry some time to fix multiple issues that have arisen since it first received approval from the council in 2018 as Sunshine Vista.
The development, now called Hillcrest Estates, needs a complete overhaul, Fry said. That includes updating civil engineering and site plans and setting up a safe process for removing roughly 51,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil at the former 13-acre junkyard at 511 Ohlone Parkway.
To accomplish all of this within one year and under the current circumstances—with the Covid-19 pandemic still affecting the economy—would not be possible, Fry said.
That is why Li and Fry, who joined the project in March, asked the council Tuesday for a two-year extension to submit an updated project map along with a one-year extension for the use permit.
“This gives me some flexibility to do the things under each of those permits under different timing,” Fry said.
The council approved the extension by a 4-2 vote, with Mayor Rebecca Garcia and Councilman Aurelio Gonzalez dissenting. Councilman Francisco “Paco” Estrada was absent because of the birth of his first child.
Garcia, as she did when she voted against the project in 2018, said she was disappointed with the developer’s lack of communication and cooperation with the neighboring Sea View Ranch community before Tuesday’s meeting.
Fry said they did not reach out to the community because of the pandemic.
“Again that conversation hasn’t taken place,” she said. “As you know, lots of conversations have taken place virtually, so that conversation should have taken place.”
Gonzalez, meanwhile, had doubts the project would ever be built. He claimed that Li simply sought the extension so that she could sell the property.
“I think it’s more falsehoods,” he said. “I understand that we need housing, but we need the right housing and we need the right developers to create that housing. And I don’t think this is the right developer.”
But other council members were quick to defend Li and Fry, whose company CDM Crocker Fry has completed projects such as the New Leaf Community Market on the westside of Santa Cruz.
“We need a project like this going forward, and it has been 14 years since there’s been a for sale sign on a new unit in this community,” Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez said. “We need to support the developers who have put in a hell of a lot of money so far for us to get this project rolling.”
Fry said he hoped to begin construction in spring 2021.
As currently proposed, the development includes 23 single-family, 40 duplexes and 87 rowstyle homes, as well as 300 resident parking spaces and 111 for guests.
It drew significant pushback from the community during the public hearing process in 2018, though it received unanimous approval from the planning commission and was greenlit by the council by a 5-1 vote.
Residents of neighboring Del Rio Court took issue with the site’s primary access point. Li proposed the access road be built by extending Loma Vista Drive into the property, carving through an existing lawn area and garden between two homes—a frequent neighborhood gathering spot.
Neighbors instead suggested using nearby Errington Road as the primary access point, a narrow road that extends behind Del Rio and Paraiso courts. But then-project architect Peter Silva said that the road would be too narrow and that it would need to be widened to meet the City’s street-size requirement of 50 feet.
The project in early 2019 received approval from the council on an addendum that would require the developer to either make Errington Road a secondary access road or install a roundabout at Ohlone Parkway and Loma Vista Drive. It is unclear which option the project will undertake.
The project this time around drew little reaction from the community.
Noriko Akiyama Ragsac, one of the most outspoken critics of the project in 2018, again spoke in opposition at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Two years have gone by and this project is dead and buried,” she said. “Why prolong the agony?”