Planners have identified five sites throughout downtown Watsonville that, if renovated, they believe could become economic catalysts for the historic but currently sleepy business corridor.
Those plans include the razing of the Old City Hall building and current Watsonville Police Department (WPD) headquarters between Main and Union streets so that mixed-use developments with high-density housing can be built in their place. In that scenario, WPD’s operations would be relocated to a new building next to the Watsonville Fire Department’s fire station at the corner of Second and Rodriguez streets.
But that, for now, is merely an idea discussed in the Downtown Specific Plan Advisory Committee’s April 28 workshop in which the group mulled over how the corridor could grow into a bustling city center over the next few years. The creation of the specific plan, the city has said, seeks to establish that long term vision, and streamline the planning, permitting and approval process for real estate developers eager to build in downtown Watsonville.
The other four “catalytic” sites identified in last month’s meeting include the following:
Mansion House Block: Planners suggest that the stretch of Union Street between East Lake Avenue and East Beach Street be removed so that the city-owned parking lot shared by Plaza Vigil and businesses on the 400 block of Main Street can be developed into mixed-use, high-density housing that would accommodate outdoor dining and entertainment in so-called “paseos,” or lively, walkable alleyways.
That would mean that Alexander street would once again be the through road for traffic coming from Union Street to Brennan Street as it was before the Loma Prieta Earthquake.
Hansen Plaza: Planners also say that the parking lot behind The Terrace apartment complex and the old Gottschalks building currently being used by CVS Pharmacy and other nearby businesses could instead be used for a “long term development opportunity” that would provide a multi-level shared parking structure.
That would also, planners say, make that block safer for the roughly 600 Watsonville Prep students that will eventually be housed in the renovated Gottschalks building.
Main & 5th: The site that houses Ramos Furniture next to Bank of America on the corner of Main and 5th streets, planners say, could be removed and replaced with a large mixed-use building that would bring housing and retail opportunities. That would allow, planners envision, the alleyway behind Radcliff Elementary to be extended out to Lake Avenue, so that pedestrians would not need to walk on Main Street.
Trucking Depot: Currently a trucking site between West Lake and West Beach streets across from Monterey Bay Caterers, planners say that location could be a natural landing spot for developers who embrace the industrial feel that surrounds that area of downtown.
It could also be a key location for housing if the proposed rail trail from Davenport to Pajaro does indeed come to fruition.
Planners also suggested several street layout changes. Perhaps the two largest changes would be making Main Street into a three-lane road to accommodate outdoor dining, and turning East Beach and East Lake streets into two-way roads.
Those changes, however, are subject to an environmental impact report and traffic study that will be conducted sometime in the next few months. They will also require approval from Caltrans.
Most members of the advisory committee said they liked the potential catalyst sites, and the walkability that they would encourage for downtown. Some, however, worried about displacement of businesses and residents already operating and living in the corridor.
The next advisory committee meeting sometime in the summer will focus on the plan’s “Affordable Housing and Anti-Displacement Strategy.”
Planners will hold a virtual community workshop on May 6 at 5:30pm to receive feedback and on the advisory committee’s work to this point.
It will also kickoff its second community-wide survey for the specific plan on that date. That survey will be open to the public until mid-June.