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Santa Rosa approves $38 million in loans for affordable housing

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Santa Rosa Housing Authority has approved the use of about $38 million in federal disaster relief funds to build hundreds of new affordable homes in the next few years.

A short-handed Housing Authority on Monday afternoon voted to loan $38,353,107 to the developers of five projects in Santa Rosa that initially offer the promise of 377 units combined, almost all restricted to low-income residents.

The largest single award, notable for both its circumstances and its size, went to the first phase of the 3575 Mendocino Avenue project, which when fully built envisions 532 homes on the site of the former Journey’s End mobile home park. Linda Adrian, a former park resident and vocal supporter of the redevelopment effort, praised the $11.9 million award to the project, which would create 370 market-rate apartments as well as 162 units in an affordable development to replace the 160 Journey’s End homes, most of which were destroyed in the 2017 Tubbs fire.

“At the moment, I’m still living in a temporary apartment which is only 320 square feet, and I’ve been waiting for this — for Journey’s End to be rebuilt so I can move back in,” said Adrian, who lived at the park for 25 years.

The funds represent a bittersweet windfall for a city in desperate need for additional affordable places to live. While the money offers a rare chance to boost several large projects simultaneously, Santa Rosa wouldn’t have had access to the funds if it hadn’t suffered through the enormous disaster of the Tubbs fire.
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Second SMART station, affordable housing shell game blocked by new Petaluma City Council

Kathryn Palmer, PRESS DEMOCRAT

In the new Petaluma City Council’s first meeting, a tie vote has all but killed the revised Corona Station project meant to create more than 500 homes and usher in the city’s second SMART train station.

It was an unceremonious end to a proposal that has dominated public meeting agendas for more than a year, sparked heated controversies and prompted a lawsuit from new Council member Brian Barncale that forced developer Todd Kurtin to go back to the drawing board.

“Unless some miracle gets pulled out of a hat, this whole thing is basically over,” Kurtin said the day after the vote. “At the end of the day, the economics of the project and the politics of the city just didn’t mesh, so it all fell apart.”

The convoluted project, its most recent iteration proposing 131 affordable units at the corner of Corona Road and North McDowell Boulevard, was inexorably tied to the funding of the proposed east side SMART station as well as the future of a 402-unit apartment project next to the current downtown train station.

The vote Monday night effectively denied a linchpin request made by the downtown apartment developer Hines Co. to count affordable housing units on Corona Road toward requirements related to the downtown project. Representatives for Hines say the refusal makes their project financially untenable and scuttles the web of agreements that linked all three projects.

“We wanted to use the affordable housing units at the Corona Station as the (downtown project’s) alternative housing compliance,” Kurtin said, referring to the city policy that requires developers either to include on-site affordable units or place them in an alternative off-site location. “Since we can’t use the Corona Station affordable units to fulfill that, then everything is going to be collapsing.”

The evening meeting marked the first time newly elected officials Barnacle and Dennis Pocekay virtually joined the dais. The inaugural council session resulted in a rare stalemate 3-3-1 vote, with Pocekay joining Mayor Teresa Barrett and Councilmember D’Lynda Fischer in denying the request, while Councilmembers Dave King, Mike Healy and Kevin McDonnell supported the project. Barnacle’s lawsuit against the Corona Station project was a clear conflict of interest, requiring the new council member to recuse himself on the vote.

The split vote could signal a new progressive bloc headed by Barrett and Fischer, after this week’s rebuke of a project that former Council members Gabe Kearney and Kathy Miller historically supported.
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Infill housing is critical for a healthy region and climate

Zack Subin & Zoe Siegel, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Bay Area cities and the state government have taken great steps recently to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and address the climate crisis. Recent bold action to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy include the exclusion of fossil gas from new buildings in major Bay Area cities, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s series of executive orders to phase out gasoline-powered cars, and state legislation to bring a carbon-free power grid.

In order to more completely address climate change, we need to think beyond energy infrastructure and tackle our housing crisis as well. To do this, we need to change the way we build, and in doing so change the environmental rhetoric around new housing. This change requires us to build dense infill developments as well as “missing middle housing” (like townhouses, fourplexes, and courtyard apartments) in existing communities, while discouraging sprawl development in high risk zones most vulnerable to climate change.

Simply allowing for more people to live in Bay Area cities is one of the most potent means of reducing climate pollution with local policies. According to research led by UC Berkeley’s Chris Jones (available interactively at coolclimate.org), it could be the single most impactful measure for Bay Area cities ranging from San Francisco to Oakland to Mountain View. This is because cities in the inner Bay Area already have relatively low carbon footprints, particularly within the transit-rich core.

Housing we don’t build in cities ends up in outlying suburbs where folks are forced to drive for most daily activities, burning gasoline and necessitating far more asphalt, steel and concrete. A drumbeat of reports from state and national organizations, including the California Air Resources Board, have said that the continued upward trend in miles driven is a threat to our emissions goals, even considering a continued shift to electric cars. Moreover, continued development on the suburban fringe threatens the very natural and working lands we need intact to reach carbon neutrality.
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Montage Healdsburg builder seeks to renegotiate deal with city as resort nears opening

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Initial discussions are underway between the builder of a long-planned luxury hotel just months away from completion in Healdsburg and city officials over public benefits in the original development deal that the builder wants to forgo, including on-site construction of affordable housing.

Montage Healdsburg, touted as the city’s first five-star hotel, is set to open by December, about 15 years after the previously named Saggio Hills project was put forward on 258 wooded acres on the north side of town. It includes 130 rooms and suites ranging from $695 to $1,695 a night, and plans for up to 70 villa-style homes.

But as the finishing touches on the hotel are put in place, the Robert Green Company, the Encinitas-based developer, and project subsidiary Sonoma Luxury Resort, are seeking to renegotiate some of the public amenities called for in the 2011 approval that paved the way for the project, previously estimated to cost up to $310 million.

In exchange for a $7.25 million cash payment to the city, Robert Green Jr., the company’s president and chief executive officer, wants to forgo on-site development of affordable housing and other public amenities he was required to provide, including a fire substation, construction of a community park, a trail network and two public roadways meant to aid emergency evacuation and link with the nearby Parkland Farms subdivision.

On the 14-acre affordable housing site, which Green was to grade for the city before handing over for construction, the developer instead wants place an open space easement, barring future building. The cash payment would be intended in part to help finance equivalent housing elsewhere in the city.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/montage-healdsburg-builder-seeks-to-renegotiate-deal-with-city-as-resort-ne/

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Land swap

Will Carruthers, THE BOHEMIAN

Petaluma approves complex land deal despite widespread opposition

Late on the night of Monday, Feb. 24, the Petaluma City Council narrowly approved a controversial, multi-part land deal in order to fund a second train station for the city.

Critics of the deal between Petaluma and Lomas Partners, LLC—a Southern California company businessman Todd Kurtin owns—say none of the parties involved have been responsive to criticism of the proposed designs, the process of approving the project and costs to the city.

Ultimately, the deal, which in part requires the city to contribute $2 million to cover some of the costs of the new train station, could leave the city with little leverage over the design of a downtown housing development and a related off-site affordable housing component, critics say.

After hours of discussion and public comment, almost unanimously against the current project proposal, the City Council voted 4 to 3 to support a development agreement with Lomas Partners and several related documents to greenlight Lomas’ interlocked housing development proposals.

There is at least one more significant hurdle for the project. The agreements approved by the City Council will be void if the city cannot secure a formal commitment from SMART to construct the Corona Road Station, which, if completed, will be the city’s second train station.

To that end, the Council directed staff to set up a meeting with SMART to reach an agreement.

Here are some of the details of the deal:

In August 2017, Lomas Partners, LLC, signed a deal with SMART to purchase 315 D St., a 4.48-acre piece of land next to Petaluma’s downtown station, for $5 million. In exchange, Lomas would donate 1.27 acres of land at 890 McDowell Blvd. and build a 150-space parking garage on it. Under plans filed with the city, Lomas would construct 110 homes on the remainder of the 890 McDowell Blvd. parcel.

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Petaluma council decisions irk climate board

Kathryn Palmer, PETLUMA ARGUS-COURIER

Climate Action Commissioners Thursday expressed their disappointment over City Council’s recent approval of the controversial Sid Commons apartment development, renewing questions over how the nascent and relatively toothless body will impact city decisions.

The 180-unit riverside project drew significant criticism from the public and two council members over environmental concerns earlier this month, including climate change-induced flooding and sea level rise.

“The last few weeks have been difficult, to say the least, for a climate activist to be sitting on the council,” said council woman and Climate Action Commission Liaison D’Lynda Fischer.

Both Vice Mayor Fischer and Mayor Teresa Barrett voted against the Sid Commons development, unconvinced the environmental studies of the project adequately addressed potential impacts on the parcel’s wetland and riparian corridor. They also questioned whether the reports relied on the best available data, especially in regards to anticipated sea level rise and increased flooding.

Last year, the city made significant strides to push climate change issues to the top of their agenda, declaring a climate emergency and creating the advisory Climate Action Commission. As a result, conversations over climate change adaptation and mitigation are only growing louder, permeating discussions within City Hall as the city moves to incorporate these new priorities.

Sid Commons is not the only development that has attracted criticism from sustainability advocates this year. Public outcry over the recent Corona Station development linked to Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit raised doubts over whether its single-family, single-use design kneecaps efforts to encourage public transit use as a way of lowering carbon emissions.

Criticisms of the Corona Station development also centered significantly on affordability concerns, a key sticking point that led the council to delay the project’s final vote to Feb. 24.

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Future Santa Rosa housing project taking shape at Journey’s End site

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A coalition of Bay Area developers and investors is finalizing plans to transform the former Journey’s End mobile home park that was mostly leveled in the 2017 Tubbs fire into one of Santa Rosa’s largest housing projects.

More than 500 new rental apartments are slated for the vacant 13.3-acre site on Mendocino Avenue, where rebuilding has been on hold while hundreds of homes rise across other parts of Santa Rosa burned in the 2017 firestorm.

Though the long-awaited, roughly $340  million project is months away from any approval and years away from construction, it comes with promises of much-needed housing and community amenities on a busy Santa Rosa artery — and a plan to prioritize requests from any displaced Journey’s End resident who wishes to return.

“It’s considerably more than I ever expected them to do,” said Linda Adrain, a longtime Journey’s End resident who plans to return. “It’s fancier than I expected it to be, it’s got more things going for it. I’m probably going to cry, realistically.”

The slow-moving project got a shot in the arm in January, when the City Council unanimously approved a formal closure of the mobile home park in a report required by state law and local ordinance. That report noted that most park residents like Adrain would receive “mitigation” payments of about $4,500, in addition to forgiven rent and utilities since the fire and insurance proceeds.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10657841-181/future-santa-rosa-housing-project

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Urban Growth Boundary has served Sonoma well

Teri Shore, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

When I first moved to Sonoma nearly 30 years ago, I paid $400 a month rent for a small house. Then after 14 years I had to move and pay double the rent. After my mother died, I lived in her affordable mobile home in 7 Flags. Today I live with my partner, Stan, who bought us a house. If I had to rent now, I couldn’t afford it.

So I totally sympathize with the woman who can’t afford to return to Sonoma, who was featured in a recent column by Jason Walsh (“City of No Return,” Dec. 13). But I strongly disagree with the view that land conservation and the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) are why housing costs are high.

The current housing crisis has resulted from multiple factors, mainly loss of state and federal funding, stagnant wages for most workers and the high costs of labor and materials. The loss of homes to wildfires exacerbated the need. Luxury homes and vacation rentals reduced supply. It is not because of the UGB.

Sonoma’s current Urban Growth Boundary.

We know that simply sprawling into greenbelts outside cities does not provide affordable housing. Just look around the Bay Area. In fact, we must double down on protecting land, water and greenbelts and building better inside our cities if we are to provide enough living space and survive the climate crisis.

The UGB has served us well for 20 years by preventing sprawl that is unhealthy for residents and expensive for the city. Our town remains small-scale and inviting. The surrounding green buffers helped protect the city from wildfire. Living here is still more affordable than the rest of the Bay Area. And the UGB costs taxpayers nothing.

The good news is that we have room to grow. Right now at least 200 more new living units are on track to be built in the city over the next two years, half affordable. And there’s plenty of room inside the UGB for another 800 to 1,000 new living units under current policies. If we grow another 20 percent in the next 20 years that’s about 2,000 people and 1,000 units. We can already meet that need. And we can do more.

Now is the perfect time to ask the City Council to encourage innovative housing types such as granny units, junior dwelling units, and smaller “missing middle” units as they urgently work on updates to the zoning code to meet new state mandates for housing. New state funding is on the way to help get more affordable homes built.

There is lots of work to do to create a climate-healthy, diverse, livable city with our neighbors and friends so people like “Molly,” the woman in Mr. Walsh’s column, can come home and others can afford to stay.

Instead of wrestling over a divisive and false choice between land conservation and housing, let’s keep our commitment to a balance between open space and community. But time is running out. The city needs to start the public process soon to put a ballot measure before the voters to renew the existing UGB for another 20 years before it expires at the end of next year.

Sonoma resident Teri Shore is the North Bay regional director of the Greenbelt Alliance.

Source: https://www.sonomanews.com/opinion/10532691-181/valley-forum-ugb-has-served?sba=AAS

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The world’s first 3D-printed neighborhood is being built in Mexico for families living on $3 a day

Christina Zdanowicz, CNN

The 33-foot printer pipes out a concrete mix that hardens when it dries, building the walls one layer at a time. It takes 24 hours over several days to build two houses at the same time — that’s about two times faster than it takes New Story to build a home with regular construction.

A giant 3D printer built two houses in an impoverished, rural part of Mexico last week, breaking ground on what will be the first 3D-printed neighborhood in the world. The houses aren’t just a prototype. Developers hope to build 50 new houses by the end of 2020, replacing the structures that residents built themselves out of wood, metal and whatever materials they could afford.

The families live in a seismic zone that’s prone to flooding in the state of Tabasco, Mexico. Building something that will withstand an earthquake and keep them dry during heavy rains was a key consideration when it came to the design.

“These families are the most vulnerable, and in the lowest income … and they’re living on about an average of $3 a day,” said Brett Hagler, CEO and co-founder of New Story, the nonprofit building the community. “They’re living in literally a pieced-together shack that during the rainy season, it will rain and it will flood their shack. Some of the women even said that the water will go up to their knees when it rains, sometimes for months,” Hagler told CNN on Wednesday.

New Story is a nonprofit that helps families in need of shelter. It has built more than 2,700 homes in South America and Mexico since it was founded in 2014. This is the first homebuilding project it’s done with 3D printing. The nonprofit paired up with ICON, a construction technology company that developed the 3D-printing robotics being used on the project. ÉCHALE, a nonprofit in Mexico, is helping find local families to live in the homes.

The homes were co-designed with input from the families that will live in them.

The 33-foot printer pipes out a concrete mix that hardens when it dries, building the walls one layer at a time. It takes 24 hours over several days to build two houses at the same time — that’s about two times faster than it takes New Story to build a home with regular construction. The concrete mix is sturdier than traditional concrete, New Story says. The foundation is reinforced to withstand seismic activity.

Read more at https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/12/business/worlds-first-3d-printed-neighborhood-trnd/index.html

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Healdsburg exploring higher fees for new hotels, new nonprofit to boost affordable housing stock

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Healdsburg will explore an array of new funding programs to preserve and expand affordable housing for its workforce, including additional fees for future hotel projects and formation of a city nonprofit to seek federal dollars unavailable to local governments.

The Healdsburg City Council on Monday asked staff to settle on the amount of potential fees required of hotel developers to support housing construction. Under a plan in the works for nearly two years, the city would charge up to $100,000 in fees for each room. A formal proposal including that provision isn’t expected until early next year.

Every two hotel rooms built in the city creates the need for one housing unit to accommodate the employees required to staff the commercial property, said Stephen Sotomayor, Healdsburg’s housing administrator. And while the city has been successful in negotiating with developers for housing in several recent hotel projects, he said, Healdsburg needs additional tools to better ensure it meets growing need for workforce housing.

“One of the strengths that our city has for funding affordable housing is that we have political will to do so, and we have a community that supports us in doing so to expand these opportunities for our residents,” Sotomayor told council members Monday. “Over the lifetime of this, depending on the number of hotels that are developed within the city … this could be a potential large funding source.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10410823-181/healdsburg-exploring-higher-fees-for