By Lauren Foliart
City on a Hill Press Reporter

Once inhabited by Santa Cruz’s Lipton Tea plant until 2002, 2120 Delaware Ave. today is nothing but a field of sourgrass enclosed by a decaying wooden fence.

Scattered with construction tractors and piles of dirt, the site shows no hint of the vast development project the city has planned for its future.

After Santa Cruz City Council approved Redtree Properties’ Delaware Avenue project on July 22, 2008, the 20-acre vacant lot will be transformed into 536,000 square feet of live-work space — 44 lots of private businesses, and 13 lots of shops and restaurants.

Just not in the immediate future.

<img src="img/delawareProject_sidebar.png" alt="Sidebar" style="float:right; margin-left: 5px; margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 5px; border: 1px solid #000000;" />“City Council approved the project over a 20-year timeline,” said Santa Cruz Vice Mayor Mike Rotkin. “It’ll develop through different steps over the years, but with the current economy, the project is off to a slow start.”

The Delaware Avenue project will encompass future issues such as population increase, water availability and transportation, while also serving as a catalyst to small-business growth by offering independent companies a place to both work and live.

Ken Thomas, the principal planner for Santa Cruz Community Development, stated in a previous interview with City on a Hill Press that mixed-use facilities are a promising solution for the future of Santa Cruz, providing a new type of community without overdeveloping the city.

Redtree’s mixed-use facilities project is the third proposal presented to the city of Santa Cruz in the past 10 years, and is the only one approved by both the City Council and the city development department. Other motions suggested that the land be used as a busyard, or to house a warehouse-sized Home Depot.

“Typically, huge plots of land such as 2120 Delaware Ave. are used for large industrial properties,” Rotkin explained. “But in this case, several small businesses and mixed-use facilities would be less invasive on neighboring residential communities.”

However, some inhabitants of the Delaware Avenue area expressed concern and disapproval regarding the proposed project. Neighbors are wary about traffic planning, green building, and water restrictions.

“This kind of development could be really good for the city, if it’s done properly,” said Reed Searle, who lives on the corner of Delaware and Swift streets. “But I’m not convinced it has been done properly.”

Searle continued to express concerns about traffic and green building. Regarding regulations the city had overseen while making the decision to approve the project, his main consternation involved green building regulations.

“The environmentally superior alternative called for exactly the same project but with reduced density,” Searle said. “I think that would have had a better outcome, and it’s certainly one that the California Environmental Quality Act thought was the better alternative.”

While the amount of density remained the same as previously proposed, the Delaware Avenue project aims to produce large amounts of solar power, require green regulations for all incoming businesses, and provide more efficient circulation of traffic.

Water sourcing currently remains an obstacle for all Santa Cruz establishments. With regard to the Delaware Avenue project, plans must abide by the same rules as the rest of the city, giving the project no priority and setting it on the same playing field as other residents and businesses of Santa Cruz.

“State policy around water gives highest priority to affordable housing,” said Bill Kocher, Santa Cruz water director. “If the Delaware Avenue project provides affordable housing, then they would get priority.”

Access to water is a function of timing, Kocher explained, and with the 20-year timeline of the project, predicting how accessible water will be to the development is hard to do at present.

Ultimately, the way in which business will be conducted during construction of the Delaware Avenue project is unknown. With a development timeline of 20 years, numerous changes in the city and community could happen before the development is completed.

“[City Council] is really excited for this project because it addresses a lot of issues we’ll see in our future,” Rotkin said. “And I hope it reflects the future for designs around industrial buildings.”