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Sonoma County single home construction in 2016 most since 2007 

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Greatest demand is for townhomes and other affordable housing.

After a long dry spell, Sonoma County builders last year created the largest number of new single-family homes in almost a decade.
In 2016, county and city governments issued permits for 581 single-family homes, according to the California Homebuilding Foundation in Sacramento. The last time more homes were built here was in 2007, when 904 permits were issued. Last year’s permit total was 236.
The construction industry remains a major employer and a significant contributor to the county economy in that way. In recent years, business and civic leaders have also looked to builders to help address a housing shortage they say is so dire it threatens to become a drag on the economic health of the region.
From that perspective, builders and others said the current level of construction activity remains well below average. And there are few reasons to expect it to increase dramatically anytime soon.
“There’s still headwinds out there for private builders and developers,” said Keith Christopherson, a longtime builder and a partner in Synergy Communities by Christopherson of Santa Rosa. For many, capital and suitable land remain in relative short supply, and most are wary of the possibility they could face another economic downturn with unsold units.
Read more at: Report: Sonoma County home construction in 2016 best since 2007 | The Press Democrat

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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

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Mitigation for 157 Windsor oak trees cut down for apartment complex

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Crews this week began cutting down more than 150 oak trees on a Windsor site, a tangible sign that a large apartment complex is soon to take their place.
The oaks, including some old-growth specimens and many trees said to be in declining health, are being cleared to make way for a 387-unit apartment complex that Windsor officials say will provide badly needed rental housing.
After an uproar two years ago over the removal of the oaks — a species considered an integral part of Windsor’s identity and also the town’s logo — the developers redesigned the project and agreed to cut down almost 50 fewer trees than they originally planned.
“We have saved many more trees than originally approved (for removal),” said Peter Stanley, project manager for the apartment development, which is expected to break ground by the end of March. “We met the need of the community and environmental concerns by saving as many oaks as we could.”
Windsor Planning Director Ken MacNab said there are currently 274 oaks on the property and 157 are scheduled to be removed.
Over half of the trees being taken out are in poor health or have hazardous structural issues, he said.
The developers will plant 267 new oaks, resulting in almost 400 oaks on the site once the project is completed. In addition, they are required to pay a mitigation fee of $420,000 for future oak planting throughout the town.
Read more at: 157 Windsor oak trees cut down for apartment complex | The Press Democrat

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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

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Railroad Square development draws support, questions 

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Affordable housing and parking emerged Monday as two key issues that the developer of an $85 million Railroad Square project will need to carefully navigate to win approval from city officials and the transportation agency that owns the Santa Rosa property.
The first public hearing on the plan by Santa Clara-based ROEM Corp. to build 268 units of housing, retail shops and a public plaza on 5.4 vacant acres west of the city’s downtown rail station featured plenty of praise for the proposal.
“What you’ve put before us is what this community has been looking for for a long time,” Santa Rosa City Councilman Chris Coursey said.
But it was also clear debates that bogged down previous efforts to develop the site are already re-emerging, potentially threatening swift approval of the project.
How many units of affordable housing would be included in the project? How affordable would those units be? How much would the city or county be asked to subsidize construction of those units? All were questions raised but left unanswered during Monday morning’s well-attended presentation at City Hall.
Read more at: Railroad Square development draws support, questions | The Press Democrat