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BoDean asphalt plant moving to Windsor, with aim to convert Santa Rosa site to housing

Will Schmidt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The owners of a prominent asphalt plant in central Santa Rosa are planning to move their business to Windsor, laying the groundwork for affordable housing to replace an industrial operation that the owners acknowledge no longer fits into a neighborhood the city has targeted for dense residential development.

BoDean Co. founders Dean and Belinda “Bo” Soiland said their new, larger site in Windsor is better suited for continued industrial use than the current site south of West College Avenue, where the city has taken a stronger regulatory stance in recent years as complaints have mounted from neighbors.

Paperwork to build the new plant will be submitted to Windsor officials in July, Dean Soiland said. The Soilands had not finalized plans for their Santa Rosa property, though planning work there could proceed on a parallel track to development of the new Windsor plant.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9658672-181/bodean-asphalt-plant-moving-to

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Sonoma County eyes sale of Chanate Road property for 2nd time around

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County, having renewed its bid to sell a nearly 72-acre property in northeast Santa Rosa, is in negotiations with three prospective buyers, including a company owned by Sonoma County developer Bill Gallaher, whose previous offer became mired in controversy and was dropped last year after a bitter legal battle.

The Chanate Road property, site of the old county hospital and later Sutter Medical Center, represents one of the largest pieces of land available for future housing in the city. Some neighbors staunchly opposed the more than 800 housing units proposed in the last purchase deal.

The property is now mostly vacant, its shuttered buildings a target for vandals and squatters, costing the county $800,000 a year to maintain, including security patrols.

Gallaher’s firm, OSL Properties LLC, was one of three housing developers that responded with offers following the county’s February solicitation to about 650 organizations.

The other two bidders are EAH Housing, a San Rafael-based nonprofit that has developed about 100 affordable housing projects worth about $1 billion in California and Hawaii, and the California Community Housing Agency.

In the previous go-round, the sprawling Chanate property was slated to be Santa Rosa’s largest housing project in at least a decade. Gallaher, well known for building homes in Oakmont and senior living facilities in Fountaingrove, wanted to build 867 housing units on the site, including rental apartment buildings three or four stories tall.

Neighbors vehemently opposed the plan and filed a lawsuit alleging the county should have conducted an environmental assessment of the project. A judge ruled in their favor, delivering the county a bruising loss and significantly delaying one of its most highly touted efforts to address the regional housing crisis.

Supervisors opted not to appeal and walked away from the multimillion-dollar deal with Gallaher in October. Two months later, the board voted to start over, prompting the request for new offers on the land.

Under the current bidding process, prospective buyers of the 71.6-acre site must be either designated public agencies or “housing sponsors” that would focus on building affordable housing. They need not be nonprofit organizations, said Caroline Judy, the county general services director.

State rules require that a quarter of the housing must be deemed affordable, with a 55-year deed restriction attached to the property, she said.

But unlike the first time around, the current proposals do not include any development plans, Judy said. Following the county’s decision on a buyer, Santa Rosa will be responsible for approving the plan — a step that was never fully launched under the previous deal.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9699083-181/sonoma-county-eyes-sale-of

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Neighbors sue to halt Safeway gas station construction in Petaluma

Yousef Baig, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

A controversial Safeway gas station project is on hold pending approval of a city permit. Meanwhile, a group of residents that has filed a lawsuit to stop the east Petaluma project will likely seek a temporary injunction to pause work on the site while the case makes its way through the courts.

Save Petaluma, which is attempting to overturn the city council’s April 1 decision to deny an appeal and approve the 335 South McDowell Blvd. project, filed the suit in Sonoma County Superior Court this month, naming Petaluma as the respondent and Safeway as the real party of interest.

So far, Safeway has applied for a demolition permit for the current structure at the corner of the Washington Square Shopping Center, but the permit application is still under review, according to city officials.

Patrick Soluri, the Sacramento-based attorney representing Save Petaluma, said he will likely pursue an injunction to freeze construction efforts at the site until the case has been decided. Had Safeway been authorized and demolition had gotten underway, the corporation would have been protected under what’s known as a vested rights doctrine.

“We would seek injunctive relief if necessary to protect the citizens of Petaluma and also preserve the integrity of land-use and environmental decision-making in the city,” Soluri said in an email.

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/9625724-181/petaluma-reviews-safeway-gas-station

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Developers may scrap plans for Kenwood resort

Lorna Sheridan, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Chinese real estate developer Tohigh Investments appears to be walking away from its plan for a high-end resort at the base of Hood Mountain in Kenwood.

Sources close to what was supposed to be the Sonoma Country Inn development said that the 186-acre property is now on the market, although the company’s official real estate and lobbying representatives reached on Monday were unable to confirm its status.

Initial development plans for the former Graywood Ranch property were first approved in 2004, when the parcel was dubbed La Campagna. But the development proposal languished for a decade, due in part, to the economic downturn in 2009.

Tohigh purchased the Kenwood property in 2014 for $41 million from Bob Piccinini, chairman and CEO of Modesto-based Save Mart Supermarkets. Tohigh is a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate Oceanwide Holdings.

Despite some fierce neighborhood opposition, the Sonoma County Planning Commission voted unanimously in 2017 that the Tohigh project had a vested right to go forward.

Read more at: https://www.sonomanews.com/business/9602897-181/chinese-may-scrap-plans-for?ref=moststory

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Santa Rosa puts out call for public input on general plan revision

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Planning website: srcity.org/SR2050

Santa Rosa has launched a comprehensive planning process it calls “Santa Rosa 2050” to create a guide for the city’s future.

The process will create a new version of the city’s general plan, the guiding document that acts as a map for decisions on housing, streets, parks, public safety and more. The plan was last updated a decade ago and is being revised to factor in the impacts of the October 2017 wildfires, the annexation of Roseland and recent technological innovations.

Upcoming workshops include a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Roseland Elementary. More details about several other upcoming meetings can be found at srcity.org/SR2050. The city estimates completing the plan update in June 2023.

“A lot has changed globally and here locally over the past decade, and the city needs to hear from our community members at this critical initial step, and throughout the duration of the project, to help direct the vision for the future of Santa Rosa,” Mayor Tom Schwedhelm said in a statement.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9579305-181/santa-rosa-puts-out-call?sba=AAS

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Op-Ed: Sonoma County at a crossroads

Teri Shore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County is at a crossroads right now with new and ongoing challenges such as climate change and extreme weather, housing needs and poor public transit that have the potential to change our communities and lands for decades to come. The general plan and zoning code are the tools intended to provide a vision and path forward on land use and to provide certainty for residents and voters.

The county’s general plan update has been postponed for the past three years because of the fires and floods that have devastated our communities. In fact, these extreme events have created a new urgency for updating the general plan. The county must respond to changed conditions since the last general plan update, more than a decade ago, and forge a way forward into an uncertain future and a “new normal.”

That is why Greenbelt Alliance, the Sierra Club, Preserve Rural Sonoma County, Wine and Water Watch and Mobilize Sonoma recently joined forces to urge the Board of Supervisors to prioritize the update of the general plan without further delay.

But after a lengthy public hearing on April 16, the supervisors voted in favor of Permit Sonoma’s recommendation to delay work on the general plan for another year or more. They decided to prioritize multiple important existing and new initiatives over the next two years. The Permit Sonoma work plan priorities is to be finalized at the June 4 supervisors meeting.

Most of the priorities are supported by environmental community, but several raise red flags because of conflicts with city-centered growth and the potential to increase greenhouse gas emissions. This is even more alarming given that no climate measures were made priorities.

In response to large community turnout at the April 16 public hearing, revising the county cannabis ordinance was put at the top of the priority planning list.

Next in line, with strongest community support, was updating the county tree ordinance, promised for a decade or more. The county’s tree protection ordinance allows trees, including oak woodlands, to be cleared for wine grapes, hay and other agriculture without public review. It is now back on the priority list.

Finalizing the Local Coastal Plan, the general plan for the coast, is also to move forward. A previous draft sparked controversy because of proposals to open up more coastal areas to commercial and vineyard development.

Long overdue winery event regulations were also made a priority, though it is not clear how soon the county will move forward, or whether draft staff guidelines will ever be released, or if county will rely entirely on standards developed by wineries and/or neighbors in each area of overconcentration.

Other priorities include planning for the Sonoma Developmental Center, adding more vacation rental exclusion zones and the Springs specific plan.

Several priorities seem a bit out of whack. Should we really be fast-tracking housing at the Santa Rosa Airport Business Park and in southeast Santa Rosa on county lands outside of voter-approved urban growth boundaries in Santa Rosa and Windsor? Both undermine long-standing city-centered growth policies.

Rezoning and opening up more rural parcels for large accessory dwelling units — as big as double-wide mobile homes — and without affordability requirements won’t solve the housing problem. Doing so will definitely increase greenhouse gas emissions, by adding more people who need to drive everywhere.

If we want to change course, we need to update the general plan first. The Board of Supervisors should provide a date certain timeline for the general plan update to be underway, not later than 2020-2021 and with no further delays.

Teri Shore is North Bay regional director for Greenbelt Alliance in Santa Rosa.

Source: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9576123-181/close-to-home-sonoma-county?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Land UseTags , , , ,

Sonoma County couple ordered to pay nearly $600,000 for damage to protected property

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma Land Trust Stewardship Director Bob Neale had seen pictures.

So he thought he had a good idea of what awaited him when he went out to inspect a protected piece of land on the north flank of Sonoma Mountain a few years back. A concerned neighbor had reported heavy equipment and questionable activity on property protected under a conservation easement and, thus, intended to remain in its natural state.

But while photos conveyed “a sense of it, it’s nothing compared to actually seeing it,” Neale, a soft-spoken man, said of the environmental damage he witnessed that day in 2014. “I was not prepared.”

Neale and an associate found a patch of private landscape above Bennett Valley scraped down to bedrock in some places and a trenched, 180-year-old oak uprooted and bound so it could be dragged to an adjoining parcel to adorn the grounds of a newly constructed estate home, according to court documents.

That heritage oak and two others the landowners sought to move over a haul road they bulldozed through the previously undisturbed site all died, along with a dozen more trees and other vegetation, according to court records.

The damage would eventually prompt Sonoma Land Trust to sue the property owners, Peter and Toni Thompson, a highly unusual step for the private nonprofit. Last month, it prevailed in what representatives hailed as a landmark legal victory.

The court battle came well after the full extent of the losses was discovered on the 34-acre conservation property. Grading for the haul road in 2014 removed more than 3,000 cubic yards of dirt and rock, the ruling found. No permits were obtained for any of the work, according to court documents.

The Thompsons had construction crews dredge an existing lake on their adjacent 47-acre residential spread, known as Henstooth Ranch, and dump the soil on the protected parcel, extending the haul road to accomplish that work, according to court documents.

“It was,” said Neale, a 25-year veteran in the open space field, “really the most willful, egregious violation of a conservation easement I’ve ever seen.”

In his blunt 57-page ruling, Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Patrick Broderick sided strongly with the land trust, calling out the Thompsons for “knowing and intentional” violations of a legally binding conservation deal. He said the couple had shown a “persistent failure to tell the truth” as the case unfolded and had “demonstrated an arrogance and complete disregard for the mandatory terms of the easement.”

Broderick ordered the couple to pay more than $586,000 in damages toward environmental restoration and other costs outlined in a judgment finalized last week.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9556824-181/sonoma-county-couple-ordered-to

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Healdsburg loosens regulations on ‘granny units’ to address ongoing housing need

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Healdsburg City Council on Monday advanced the county’s least restrictive rules on granny units to encourage development and help address the city’s ongoing and immediate need for more affordable workforce housing.

The move comes three years after a city housing action committee first made the recommendation to expand the size of the accessory units on existing home sites, as well as reduce the impact fees collected to build them. The council’s decision was seen as a victory in meeting Healdsburg’s plan to open up new ways to solve what has been branded a growing regional housing crisis.

“This has been a long process,” said Mayor David Hagele. “It’s a pretty big step that we’re taking. This is housing we want, and this is housing we need. This is a pretty happy moment that we’re able to take some action.”

The unanimous vote also followed the council’s direction to city staff to finalize a deal to buy two small, below-market rate apartment complexes not far from the downtown plaza, according to the real estate agent representing the seller. The two properties, each made up of eight low-rent units, are located at 531 University St. and 500 Piper St. Terms of the purchase agreement were not available Monday, though the asking price was $1.8 million and $1.5 million, respectively.

Once the new granny unit regulations go into effect in the next 45 days, residents will have fees waived on all those built up to 850 square feet. Under current city regulations, the dimension is the largest permitted and costs nearly $10,000 to construct, according to the city.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9571177-181/healdsburg-loosens-regulations-on-granny

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Sonoma’s vision for open space, affordable housing included in state budget request

Christian Kallen, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Two of Sonoma’s most desirable goals – affordable housing and open space – are being baked into plans for the extensive Sonoma Developmental Center property, as part of the state’s recognition of the “unique and historic resources of the property,” according to a three-year budget request made on April 22 by the Department of General Services.

The three-year timeline was confirmed by state Sen. Mike McGuire, whose district includes the developed campus and much of the surrounding open space.

“We have been working for the past four years to protect and preserve the open space watersheds and wildlife corridors while at the same time establishing a community-driven process that will plan for the next generation of the SDC campus,” McGuire told the Index-Tribune.

McGuire has been working with his fellow legislators, state Sen. Bill Dodd and Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, as a delegation from Sonoma on the SDC process.

“The SDC Coalition has been working with state legislators for years to move to this point,” said 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin about the group of local stakeholder organizations she’s been working with as the Developmental Center transitions to its next stage. “We wanted a community-driven process for the future of the SDC, and we were rewarded.”

The detailed inclusion of budget numbers through June 2022 signals that the state is stepping up to honor the commitment it made to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on April 5 to bear the cost of managing SDC for the next three years, while the property is in “warm shutdown” mode, giving the county time to prepare a specific reuse plan for the historic property.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/news/9556028-181/sonomas-vision-for-open-space

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Sonoma County supervisors endorse airport terminal expansion

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Given a PowerPoint-aided tour of a proposed $25 million addition to the terminal at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, county supervisors on Tuesday approved of the project that comes with one large catch: it depends on securing a federal grant.

“It is a great airport to fly in and out of,” Board Chairman David Rabbitt said, noting it is “easy to park” and “people are friendly.”

“What you do there is so important for this county,” Supervisor Susan Gorin told the tour guide, Airport Manager Jon Stout.

Gorin personally values the United Airlines service to Denver started in March, facilitating visits to and from her grandchildren, 18 months and 4 years old.

But the airport, which started commercial service with about 109,000 passengers in 2007, is a bit of a victim of its own success, measured by carrying more than 440,000 passengers last year and nearly 90,000 in the first three months of this year.

The 15,000-square-foot terminal is already congested at peak midday hours, and the crowding will get worse as summer arrives with as many as 17 flights a day, Stout said.

There will be four flights in some two-hour periods, funneling up to 600 people through the terminal that houses airline ticket counters, baggage collection and various kiosks.

The proposed 30,000-square-foot expansion would include a two-lane passenger checkpoint, up to 350 seats, new restrooms, four more ticket counters, a new concession area and a larger “meet-and-greet” area for welcoming incoming passengers, Stout said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9547921-181/airport-terminal-expansion-gets-informal