The preliminary plans for two large, separate projects, both mostly housing projects, were discussed in two community meetings hosted by their respective developers in Scotts Valley recently—both of which were received with skepticism and questions the developers were unable to answer.
The first meeting, held on Dec. 12, was about the revived application for the La Madrona Mixed-Use Project, showing preliminary site plans for a four-story, 180-room four-star hotel, as yet unaffiliated with a brand, 74 luxury apartments, 100 units of senior rental housing, plus a stand-alone restaurant- on a 17.7 acre parcel south of the Scotts Valley Hilton on La Madrona Drive, visible from Highway 17.
The meeting drew about 60 residents, mostly from the Monte Fiore gated community down the street from the proposed project on Silverwood Drive, who voiced a number of concerns, mostly about the overall density of the project and traffic impacts on their neighborhood.
The second meeting, regarding an undeveloped, 2.5 acre parcel at the other end of Mount Hermon Road- behind the 7-Eleven at Scotts Valley Square extending to Sky Park Drive, was held on Dec. 18. City Ventures, Inc., a large housing development company headquartered in San Francisco, hosted the meeting for what has been dubbed the “Sky Park Plaza” project with concept plans for between 35 and 45 housing units, including condos over commercial space facing Mount Hermon Drive.
La Madrona Mixed-Use Project
In 2015, Brent Lee, a nuclear engineer from San Jose, bought the 17.7 acre parcel of forested and in places steeply-sloped land just south of the Scotts Valley Hilton Hotel for $2.7 million, and began talking to city officials about what they thought the best use of the property might be.
With its proximity to Highway 17 and commercial zoning, and potential city revenues from the hotel room tax, these discussions led Lee to begin working on a proposal for a hotel and a restaurant. A “rough, incomplete application” has been pending, and an environmental consultant put under contract with the city since January, according to Taylor Bateman, Scotts Valley Planning Director. The application has been dormant throughout the year as Lee lined up financing for the project, which he now has via a partnership with an equity investor in the hotel.
“I’m not used to being a developer- I’m an engineer- and we don’t want to fight with the community-we want what’s good for the community,” Lee told the audience before the preliminary site plans were discussed at the meeting. “We hope whatever is good for the community will be good for my project,” Lee added.
Kathy Thibodeaux, a spokesperson for Lee’s hotel/housing/restaurant project, tried to assure a generally skeptical audience the preliminary site plans were more like “project concepts” and were “not fully baked”, and the purpose of the meeting was to listen to the concerns community, of which she received many, and recorded on flipchart paper.
“It looks to me like a big piece of San Jose dropped in our town,” was Kathleen Waidhofer’s reaction, an 18-year resident of Monte Fiore. “The density of the whole thing doesn’t show any love for Scotts Valley. With less density, he may be able to get more support,” Waidhofer said.
The preliminary plans showed four-story buildings cantilevered back against the northern slope of the property for 74 one and two bedroom “luxury apartments”, with extensive amenities and landscaping. A separate, 100-unit, four-story apartment building designed for “independent living” for seniors was included in the plan. The senior apartments are proposed as market-rate, and “we’re not sure of the number of the affordable component at this time,” Thibodeaux said.
The housing portions of the project will require amendments to the General Plan because, unlike the hotel and restaurant, the housing is not consistent with the General Plan or the property’s commercial zoning, according to the Planning Director Bateman.
At a separate meeting, Mayor Jim Reed was explicit about his displeasure with the developers “dropping off” the completely revised site plans only one week before the community meeting was announced. The 74 luxury apartments, as well as many of the architectural features, were not included in previous discussions with the city, according to Reed, and said he was as surprised and “dismayed” as the public with the proposed changes in the project from preliminary discussions.
The timing for a formal, complete application for project entitlements is not clear at this time, according to Thibodeaux, “but there will definitely be more community outreach,” Thibodeaux said.
City Ventures “Sky Park Plaza”
This “open house style” community meeting attracted about a dozen residents, mostly from the adjoining Sky Park neighborhood, to discuss conceptual plans for the project- which is “likely” to include in the range of between 35-45 three-story townhomes, including housing over street level commercial and retail space along Mount Hermon Drive, according to City Ventures Director of Development Samantha Hauser.
Unlike the La Madrona Mixed-Use Project, no previous plans or applications have been submitted to the city, and Hauser emphasized the meeting was aimed at getting feedback from the community on the “concepts” behind the project, and “now is the time for flexibility, because it gets harder to backtrack as we get further into the process,” Hauser said.
The property falls under the planning authority of Town Center Specific Plan, which has the parcel zoned “C-S” –Commercial Service, which does not allow for housing. An amendment of the Town Center Specific Plan will be necessary for project approvals, as well as an expanded Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
The EIR for the Town Center Specific Plan evaluated the impacts of a total of 300 housing units. With the developer of the Town Center Project currently proposing 250 housing units, combined with the 46 townhomes on Blue Bonnet Lane included under that EIR, the environmental review for the Town Center area is “maxed out” for any more housing before this proposal was made.
“We’ll just have to work with city staff on these issues- after we get a feel for what the community likes and dislikes about this proposal,” Hauser said.
Jan Smart, a resident of the Sky Park neighborhood for 21 years, expressed her dislike of the proposal for its lack of integration with the larger Town Center plan. “We have the Town Center getting planned - why do we need another, little, mini- “thing” over there- when the Town center is over here,” Smart said.
City Ventures is no newcomer to Scotts Valley, having developed the 46-unit townhome project next to the Transit Center, and is currently building “The Grove” project, the 50-unit housing project on Santa’s Village Road on the former Borland property.