Tag Archives: development

Santa Rosa meadow up for sale by Sonoma County over neighbors’ objections 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

At the end of Beverly Way, a small and secluded street in northeastern Santa Rosa, lies the entrance to a grassy meadow beloved by local residents who for decades have wandered through the open field and among the massive oak trees beyond.

Visitors to the Sonoma County-owned land are welcomed by a prominent sign just beyond the street that declares the property part of the surrounding Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve, a more than 40-acre swath of land situated south of the former county hospital complex and above the Hillcrest neighborhood near Franklin Park.

But the meadow’s inclusion in a forthcoming county land deal — the sale of 82 acres to a local developer whose plans include hundreds of new housing units — has neighbors alarmed that the county is, perhaps unwittingly, turning over the field to housing construction.

A 16-foot banner recently staked down by Beverly Way neighbors speaks to that concern.“The county is selling our meadow to an apartment developer,” it proclaims, encouraging like-minded individuals to help prevent “the destruction of our preserve.”

Read more at: Santa Rosa meadow up for sale by Sonoma County over neighbors’ objections | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use

Interim chief gets permanent post with California Coastal Commission

Peter Fimrite & Steve Rubinstein, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

The California Coastal Commission named its acting executive director to formally head the agency Friday, exactly one year after firing his predecessor in a controversial ouster that caused a statewide outcry among environmentalists.

Named to the post was Jack Ainsworth, 59, who has worked for the commission for 29 years. Meeting in Newport Beach (Orange County), the commission voted unanimously to appoint Ainsworth, the agency announced in a news release.

“Jack’s depth of understanding of coastal issues, the challenges confronting this agency and his steady leadership over the last year thoroughly impressed us,” said commission chair Dayna Bochco. “We are all looking forward to continuing our work to protect California’s magnificent coastline and ensure access for all.”

Ainsworth’s promotion followed the commission’s decision last Feb. 10, with a 7-to-5 vote, to fire Charles Lester after a heated debate over the long-term mission of the agency. The decision prompted thinly veiled allegations of racism and intolerance to be hurled between commissioners and Lester’s staunchest supporter, the Surfrider Foundation.

Supporters of Lester alleged big-money developers were behind the move. His opponents said Lester’s staff was insufficiently diverse.

Surfrider, an advocacy group created more than 30 years ago to fight coastal development, said the commission pushed out Lester to appease builders and rich movie stars who wanted to construct Malibu mansions.

Read more at: Interim chief gets permanent post with California Coastal Commission – San Francisco Chronicle

Filed under Land Use, Sonoma Coast

Sonoma County gives developer exclusive right to negotiate purchase of ex-Santa Rosa hospital site

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors moved forward Tuesday with plans to sell 82 acres of county-owned land in the Santa Rosa hills to a well-known local developer who wants to convert the site, where the former Sutter Medical Center was located, into a mixed-use community that includes hundreds of new housing units.

The sale of the land off Chanate Road to developer Bill Gallaher and his team is intended to make a major stride toward expanding the county’s tight housing market, including the addition of more affordable units. If the sale is finalized by supervisors in several months, it would mark the county’s largest real estate and housing development deal in recent history.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to enter into exclusive negotiations with Gallaher, whose company would pay as much as $12.5 million in cash for the land. County officials say the deal is worth nearly twice as much when cost savings are considered.

Supervisor Lynda Hopkins abstained from the vote, saying she did not have enough detailed information from closed-session discussions that happened before she assumed office in January.

The closed-door discussions fueled concern from many members of the public who attended the meeting Tuesday. Residents said they felt blindsided because conceptual details of the proposed development emerged publicly just days ago.

Read more at: Sonoma County gives developer exclusive right to negotiate purchase of ex-Santa Rosa hospital site | The North Bay Business Journal

Filed under Land Use

Ratna Ling Retreat Center at center of rare Supreme Court appeal

Amie Windsor, SONOMA WEST TIMES & NEWS

East of Salt Point State Park, in the northwest corner of Sonoma County, sits a Tibetan Buddhist retreat center that promotes a tradition of positive change, a spiritual community and deep appreciation of the natural environment.

Despite its aims, not everyone believes the Ratna Ling Retreat Center is as much of a steward to the land and environment as its website claims. The retreat center finds itself in the midst of a lawsuit over the large expansion of its printing press operations.

In 2014, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved the expansion of the retreat center’s printing press, enabling Ratna Ling to make four temporary tent-like storage structures permanent. The approval also granted the retreat center permission to construct a new five-bedroom residence for senior members of the Buddhist community on its property.

“The county permitted industrial-scale fabric storage tents in a remote, fire-prone area, even though the local fire protection district warned of unmitigated industrial fire risks,” said Bruce Johnson, a member of Coastal Hills Rural Preservation, the citizens group who filed the initial lawsuit.

After the Board of Supervisors granted approval, Coastal Hills sued the county, arguing the county did not conduct a proper environmental review and that the retreat center was in violation of county land-use standards. Coastal Hills also argues the printing and publishing operations for Dharma Publishing, located at the retreat center, are inconsistent with the county’s general plan and zoning provisions.

Read more at: Ratna Ling Retreat Center at center of rare Supreme Court appeal

Filed under Land Use, Sonoma Coast

Sonoma Valley luxury resort and winery moves forward despite opposition 

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After languishing for more than a decade, a luxury hotel resort and winery in Kenwood is again moving forward, bolstered by new owners and prior approval from the county that appears to pave the way for construction.

The 50-room hotel on a plateau overlooking the Valley of the Moon — along with a luxury spa, 125-seat restaurant and small winery — was the subject of a bruising land-use fight a dozen years ago before being stalled further by the recession.

To opponents, the Resort at Sonoma Country Inn, as it’s now dubbed, epitomizes the steady onslaught of new wineries, tasting rooms and events that are changing the face of the picturesque valley, piling more cars on to busy Highway 12, which averages more than 18,000 vehicles per day in Kenwood, according to state traffic counts.

“It is something that is going to have an impact for sure,” said Kathy Pons, president of Valley of the Moon Alliance, a community group. She worries not only about traffic, but the hillside resort’s visibility and light emanating from it at night.

Read more: Sonoma Valley luxury resort and winery moves forward despite opposition | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Transportation

Wineries’ impact brings taste of bitterness to Sonoma campaign

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

A supervisors race between two liberal candidates in Sonoma County has turned into a good ol’ Wine Country brawl amid fear that the region is too quickly transforming into a pricey, water-sucking theme park for the almighty grape.

The tug-of-war over the seat being vacated by disgraced Supervisor Efren Carrillo is billed by some as a choice between forests and vineyards, farmlands and event centers, conservation and industry.

But the election pitting organic farmer Lynda Hopkins against former state Sen. Noreen Evans for supervisor of the Fifth District, which covers western Sonoma County, including the entire coastline, is more complicated than that.

Both candidates purport to want the same thing — to protect the environment, particularly the Russian River; create affordable housing to counter skyrocketing prices; improve roads and other infrastructure; and prevent the county from turning into a wine monoculture.

The argument over which candidate can achieve those things has turned into a mud-slinging imbroglio, mainly over the alleged influence of special-interest groups.

At stake, if you believe the two candidates, is the future of bucolic Sonoma County, which has seen an explosion of winery development and a population increase of almost 4 percent since 2010.

“The major issue is the influence of wineries and agriculture,” said Ernie Carpenter, a former supervisor who is supporting Evans. “We are having a corporate buyout of many old family vineyards and wineries.”

Evans and her supporters say Hopkins is bankrolled by mineral extractors, real estate developers, and dozens of vineyard and winery owners worried about the government restricting tourist-friendly projects that would, in turn, clog already over-tapped roads.

Read more at: Wineries’ impact brings taste of bitterness to Sonoma campaign

Filed under Sustainable Living

Vision emerging for last segment of Windsor Town Green

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A vision for redeveloping a last remaining swath of downtown Windsor could come into a little more focus this week.

The Town Council on Wednesday will discuss future plans for the northern edge of Windsor’s signature Town Green and its Civic Center site.They include tearing down Town Hall, the police station, or school district offices to create surface parking; using the Huerta gymnasium site to make way for a hotel, conference facility and retail space; and a “pavilion,” multipurpose events center on the current site of the regional library.

Those are just a few of the possibilities that emerged from a series of community visioning workshops last spring in addition to interviews with residents, business owners, property owners and town staff.

“This is an introductory moment as to what we may or may not do with those lands,” Mayor Mark Millan said Friday. “This is just the beginning of some interesting dialogue for all of us.”

The council will weigh three alternatives presented by consultants Wallace, Roberts and Todd, part of a $200,000 contract approved in February for analysis of new development of the civic center site and property stretching north to the intersection of Old Redwood Highway and Windsor Road.

Read more at: Vision emerging for last segment of Windsor Town Green

Filed under Land Use

Appeals court upholds Sonoma County Buddhist center’s expansion plan 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Controversial plans to expand a Buddhist retreat and publishing operation in rural northwest Sonoma County secured another legal victory when a state appeals court last week upheld a county court judgment.

A three-judge panel from the 1st District Court of Appeal unanimously affirmed a Sonoma County judge’s ruling last year denying a challenge to the Ratna Ling Retreat Center’s expansion plans, which were approved by county officials more than two years ago. A group of citizens had sued in opposition to the project, arguing the retreat center was in violation of county land-use standards and county officials had not conducted a proper environmental review.

At the heart of the case is a land-use dispute over Ratna Ling’s publishing activities, which include a facility used to print sacred texts in addition to four tent-like storage structures originally intended to be temporary.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in 2014 approved a use permit allowing Ratna Ling to make the storage tents permanent and construct a new residence, among other steps. But citizens organized under a group calling itself Coastal Hills Rural Preservation have continued challenging the project.

Coastal Hills has argued the publishing operations are growing to a scale inconsistent with the proper use of Ratna Ling’s location in the forested hills northwest of Cazadero. The group has contended the printing operations and text-storage structures conflict with the county’s general plan and zoning provisions, and that the county should have conducted a more thorough environmental review.

Read more at: Appeals court upholds Sonoma County Buddhist center’s expansion plan | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sonoma Coast

Op-Ed: An affordable housing fix: Make room for granny

Editorial Board, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

We’ve said it before. Building more houses is a surefire solution to the affordable housing crisis.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. We’ve said that, too.There are practical obstacles — unsuitable land, inadequate water supplies, endangered species protections, steep fees for the new parks, new schools and other infrastructure needed to serve new homes. Oftentimes there are political obstacles, too, everything from neighborhood opposition to a specific development proposal to reflexive objections to growth of any kind.

Is it any wonder that communities across the state are struggling to meet the need for affordable, habitable housing?

There isn’t a solution that will satisfy everyone.It’s going to take a variety of strategies to chip away at this problem, and state legislators are reviewing proposals to facilitate an approach that could produce a significant amount of new housing without sprawl: adding granny units to single-family homes.

Supervisorial candidates in Sonoma County have floated the same idea.

Consider this: Construction began on about 1,500 new housing units in Sonoma County in 2015. And that was the largest number in several years. Adding a second unit to 10 percent of the existing homes in Sonoma County would create about 12,000 new housing units. A similar increase across the nine-county Bay Area would translate to about 150,000 new housing units.

An improbable scenario? Yes, it is. But it illustrates the scale of the potential gains to be made by scattering new housing throughout existing neighborhoods.

Read more at: PD Editorial: A housing fix: Make room for granny | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County voters to decide on extending open space protections 

Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

On an already bulging ballot, Sonoma County voters this fall will be asked whether to extend open space protections that for the past 20 years have helped shield more than 17,000 acres of farm and untouched lands from large-scale development.

community separatorsThe Board of Supervisors last week voted to place on the Nov. 8 ballot a measure extending for another two decades the county’s longstanding rule requiring property owners seek additional voter approval for projects such as large housing subdivisions, for example, or commercial projects on largely undeveloped county lands separating cities.

Open space advocates argue such protections affecting buffer zones between cities, known technically as community separators, help curb urban sprawl and contain growth. They do not prevent development outright, but make it more difficult by requiring voter approval to increase the intensity of development in designated rural areas. The protections, in place since 1996 and 1998, are set to expire at the end of 2016 and 2018, respectively, though other rules regarding the parcels will remain in place.

“This doesn’t remove development potential. Whatever people are allowed to do now, they’ll still be allowed to do,” said Teri Shore, regional director for the North Bay office of Greenbelt Alliance, the nonprofit spearheading the initiative. “This is essential if we want to maintain our rural landscape. The voter protections simply help strengthen the community separators.”

Supervisors last week approved a parallel proposal through a general plan amendment that will triple the amount of land included in the buffer zones. The new greenbelts, slated for final approval by supervisors in August, include 37,700 acres of largely undeveloped county land north of Santa Rosa, east of Sebastopol, around Cloverdale and Healdsburg, south of Petaluma and between Penngrove and Cotati.

Read more at: Sonoma County voters to decide on extending open space protections | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use