In Santa Cruz, Tentative "Victory" for 1926 Hotel
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Mar. 23, 2010
UPDATE: On Apr. 24, 2010, Judge Paul Burdick reversed his ruling, clearing the way for the hotel's demolition. Read more >>
When Cary Grant visited Santa Cruz, Calif., he stayed at a Spanish Revival hotel built in 1926. Today the hotel, now known as the La Bahia Apartments, has lost its glamour but gained a shot at survival.
A developer received City Council approval last April to tear down the La Bahia Apartments and construct a hotel and condo building in its place. But weeks later, a group made up of local residents sued the city to prevent demolition. On Feb. 19, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Paul Burdick issued a tentative ruling in favor of the group, Build a Better La Bahia.
Judge Burdick said the city had not adequately considered alternatives to demolition, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
San Jose-based Barry Swensen Builders plans to construct a new 125-room hotel that would be nearly twice as tall as nearby buildings. Though the company has stated it would preserve the old hotel's historic bell tower, most of the rest of the structure would be destroyed. Judge Burdick's final ruling, expected in the next few weeks, would force the company to propose alternatives to complete demolition.
"We'll probably go back to the [environmental impact report] and give some more alternatives to save some of the historical elements of the building," says Jesse Nickel, vice president of Barry Swensen Builders.
This ruling, if finalized, "is a great victory for people who feel strongly about enforcing the environmental quality legislation," says Don Webber, who co-founded Build a Better La Bahia three years ago. Webber, who lives next to the hotel, says his group simply wants to see the law enforced. If the old hotel must fall, he wants its replacement to fit into the neighborhood. "It's not a height issue; it's trying to design it with respect to the scale around it and with respect to the landmark itself."
Jesse Nickel says that Barry Swensen Builders is determined to redevelop the La Bahia site, and will go back to the drawing board for now. "It is a saga," Nickel says. "You have to be a marathon runner."
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