San Juan council approves restaurant

Denies neighbor’s appeal

The San Juan Bautista City Council approved a restaurant and residential units for La Casa Rosa on Third Street. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

The San Juan Bautista City Council’s unanimous denial of an appeal Jan. 21 allows a restaurant proposed for downtown to move forward.

Watsonville-based developer Raeid Farhat purchased the 1870 La Casa Rosa building at 107 Third St. in October for $225,100, according to MLS Listings. Farhat is proposing a restaurant, bar and two-bedroom residential unit on the first floor, and three one-bedroom residential units on the second floor, for a project that totals nearly 4,000 square feet.

Soon after the planning commission approved the project in December, Emily Renzel, who owns the adjacent Casa de Anza at 101-103 Third St., submitted an appeal to the city, citing parking, privacy and historical preservation concerns.

Renzel said such a proposal could set a precedent for larger development downtown, as well as “strip” La Casa Rosa of “all the remaining historic fabric.”

“This is a serious question of what you’re doing to development standards for the whole downtown,” she said. “This is inappropriate for that much density.”

Among other concerns, Renzel said a proposed exterior staircase would be intrusive on her property.

“Would you want a 50-foot-long walkway overlooking your property from only 15 feet away?” she asked the council.

City Attorney Deborah Mall said the council could deny the project if it was found to have an adverse impact on public safety, or if the density was against state or federal law.

La Casa Rosa, which has sat vacant for more than two years following the restaurant’s closure, has been in the city’s crosshairs in recent years due to “various instances of unpermitted work,” according to a city staff report, after the city approved a restaurant and bar proposal by the previous owner in 2017.

In February 2019, the council declared the building a public nuisance, and the following month, the city spent $15,000 to prevent a balcony facing Third Street from failing. The property went to public auction in October.

After hearing from a handful of San Juan Bautista residents concerned about parking constraints and where future residents would put their garbage cans, Councilmember Dan DeVries motioned to deny the appeal, but per the conditions of approval, require Farhat to pay $25,000 in in-lieu parking fees or secure a lease for three parking spaces nearby. His motion also requires Farhat to identify a trash enclosure space.

DeVries’ amendments were approved unanimously.

Farhat said in-lieu fees would likely not be feasible for the project, as he is working on “slim margins.”

“If you guys truly feel that you are better off with it being the way it is now than what I could propose there, then I would say vote to deny the project,” he said. “I would accept that.”

Mayor Mary Vazquez Edge suggested postponing the council’s decision until February.

“We’re not trying to turn you away,” she told Farhat, “but this is the first time this has come before this body. We’re grateful that you’re here wanting to restore our building, but there are just a few issues.”