Highlighting the city’s housing woes and the environmental checks and balances at the county level, the Watsonville City Council on Tuesday approved changes to plans for a large housing development on Ohlone Parkway.
Hillcrest Estates, previously known as Sunshine Vista, will have slightly fewer homes—falling from 150 to 144—than when it first received City Council approval in 2018.
Developers will also no longer have to remove all of the 35,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil at the 13-acre lot that served as a junkyard for roughly 60 years. They instead plan to bury much of the soil in a cement-sealed pit on the edge of the property.
The altered soil remediation plan, project manager John Fry, of CDM Crocker Fry, said, was needed to help the proposed development pencil out. And the project’s environmental consultant said he did not expect the plan to hit any speed bumps during County Environmental Health’s review, or the mandatory 30-day public review, which began June 25.
If the soil remediation plan does require a major correction, however, the project could return to the City Council at a future date.
The City Council approved the changes by a 4-3 vote. Mayor Jimmy Dutra and City Council members Rebecca J. Garcia and Aurelio Gonzalez voted “no.”
Gonzalez literally pounded the table after putting forth a motion to deny the approval. He said that the developer had failed several times to move the project forward over the course of three years and that they would continue to do so going forward.
He and Garcia also voiced concerns about the soil remediation plan, with the former saying that he wanted the developer to follow through on their original proposal to haul away the contaminated dirt.
“It’s not good,” Gonzalez said. “Disadvantaged communities are always taken advantage of.”
The motion to deny approval failed 4-3, with Dutra, Garcia and Gonzalez on the short end of the vote.
The project will construct five single-family units, 60 duplex-style townhouse units and 76 row-style townhouse units. The updated plans also included six “common areas” such as a bocce ball court, playfield and outlook area that Fry said would be shared with the nearby neighbors off Ohlone Parkway.
The homes, Fry said, will likely cost between $665,000-800,000, though final costs are still to be determined—that does not include the 29 homes that will be sold through the city’s affordable pricing standards.
The project will head to the Planning Commission next week seeking approval on a development agreement.
Watsonville Wetlands Watch (WWW) in a letter to the city before Tuesday’s meeting said the new proposed soil remediation plan is “unacceptable” and that it could “result in long-term environmental contamination to the wildlife and waters of Watsonville Slough System as well as the neighboring community.”
In a response, Fry said the plan will use “state-of-the-art technology supported by ‘best practices’ incorporating the highest professional and scientific standards.”
About a half-dozen people echoed WWW’s concerns during Tuesday’s meeting. They also said the proposed roundabout at Ohlone Parkway and Loma Vista Drive and entrance to the development through Loma Vista would negatively impact the surrounding neighborhood.
“Do deadlines matter more than the health and safety of your very own constituents?” asked Noriko Akiyama-Ragsac, contesting that the city should have waited for county health’s approval on the proposed soil remediation plan before bringing the item forward.
The project has made little progress since first receiving approval.
The property was listed on Loopnet—an online marketplace for commercial property—in 2019 as original developer Lisa Li worked to find investors after significantly surpassing its initial $60 million budget, she told this publication.
Since then, Fry joined as project manager, and it received a two-year extension last August.
It will be built in five phases. The first phase, including grading, is set to begin sometime this summer, according to developers.