Capitola Village: How big a hotel is OK?

Council postpones action on general plan update pending more information

By Jondi Gumz, Santa Cruz Sentinel

neil simmons
Photo- Neil Simmons Photography

CAPITOLA >> Capitola faces a big decision in adopting a general plan for development for the next 20 to 30 years: Should the City Council allow for a new hotel to be built on the former theater site or existing Mercantile location, and if so, how big?

The council agreed Thursday night to get more input and more information before making a decision on the general plan update, replacing the 1989 version, which has consumed nearly four years and $805,000 of a budgeted $892,000 and would allow for more street-facing pedestrian-friendly development on 41st Avenue.

The key is a real estate term known as “floor area ratio” — the square feet of the building divided by the square feet of the lot — which regulates maximum building size.

The Fairfield Inn & Suites and Best Western Capitola-by-the-Sea, both on 41st Avenue, have a floor area ratio of 2.0.

In Capitola Village, zoned “village mixed use,” floor area ratio ranges from .4 to 2.0.

The city’s general plan advisory committee recommended allowing a higher floor area ratio for a hotel use in the village and for properties on the west side of 41st Avenue, the side where the Capitola Mall is located.

The concern was that on the east side, more intense development would be incompatible with adjacent residential neighborhoods.

The planning commission recommended a floor area ratio of 2.0 for the village, 1.5 for the regional commercial zone and 1.0 for community commercial, and allowing a developer to request a larger floor area ratio up to 3.0 in the village for a project with substantial community benefit, designed to minimize impacts to neighbors, that would significantly enhance economic vitality.

Planning commissioners were split on whether to allow requests for a larger floor area, with the majority in favor.

“I would like to hear both sides of those arguments,” said Councilwoman Stephanie Harlan on Thursday night.

She asked to postpone a vote until a meeting when the planning commission and advisory committee could participate in the discussion.

“I want to look at a map and see the adjacent zoning,” she said. “It’s really important. If you say 1.5 or 2.0, that leads the discussion on density.”

Mayor Sam Storey agreed the potential hotel in the village would have big impacts. He asked for a schematic showing what a hotel with a 3.0 floor area ratio — the maximum potentially allowed — would look like.

Councilman Michael Termini voiced support for the 100-foot buffer between residential and commercial neighborhoods, and Councilman Dennis Norton wanted the plan to be in a form the public could understand and then move onto revising the city’s outdated zoning ordinance.

Only two residents spoke Thursday.

Ron Skelton wanted more emphasis on quality of life, and Adam Samuels, who lives near Monarch Cove Inn, which seeks to expand, wanted to make sure the plan would maintain residential neighborhoods.

“Please let your neighbors know,” said Storey, urging residents to provide input before the plan is approved. “It will be binding on us for 20-30 years.”

The council plans a special budget meeting 6 p.m. May 21.

Floor Area Ratio

Here is what the Planning Commission recommended for floor area ratio

Zone Existing Proposed Increased ratio allowance

Village mixed use N/A 2.0 3.0

Neighborhood mixed use .5 1.0 N/A

Regional commercial .5 1.5 2.0

Community commercial .5 1.0 1.5

Visitor accommodations .5 .5 N/A

Industrial .5 .5 N/A

Source: City of Capitola

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