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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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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

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Zones offer development potential

Lorna Sheridan, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE

Will there be a rush of new development in the Valley’s Springs neighborhood stemming from Highway 12’s inclusion on a new list of state-designated “opportunity zones”?

That will depend on whether developers are lured to Sonoma by the Trump administration’s tax-friendly program.

The concept of opportunity zones was part of the Trump administration’s tax overhaul – more formally known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. It offers tax breaks to investors who fund new developments in designated low-income neighborhoods. Last Wednesday, President Trump held a press conference about the program and its ability to revitalize “distressed areas.”

“Our tax cuts have kicked off a race to invest in opportunity zones beyond anything that anybody in this room even thought,” said Trump at the press conference.

The opportunity zone criteria required a neighborhood to have at least 20 percent of its residents living at or below the poverty level, or median family income below 80 percent of the regional median income.

Based on that criteria, California officials selected nearly 900 census tracts for the new program, including three in Sonoma County.

Sonoma County’s three zones are downtown Santa Rosa, Roseland and the Highway 12 corridor in the Springs. The Springs zone runs for three miles along the west side of Highway 12 from north of Donald Street to Madrone Avenue.

Read more at https://www.sonomanews.com/business/9524003-181/sonomas-highway-12-featured-in

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Stalled Corona development sparks debate over housing density

Yousef Baig, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

As the future of the east Petaluma SMART station remains entangled in litigation, the developer tied to the deal is weighing a housing proposal that critics say falls short of the city’s need for maximum density projects at transit-oriented sites.

Representatives from Lomas Partners presented site plans at last week’s Know Before You Grow development forum that feature 112 single-family homes for a 6.5-acre parcel at the corner of Corona Road and North McDowell Boulevard.

If the pending lawsuit between SMART and the developer can be settled amicably, a portion of the property would be set aside for a 150-space parking area to accompany the long-awaited suburban train stop.

But with the fate of the terminal uncertain, attendants at the forum criticized a housing proposal that offered for-sale residences starting at $600,000, pitched as entry-level homes for young families struggling to find market-rate options in Petaluma.

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/news/9326515-181/corona-development-sparks-debate-over

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Santa Rosa townhouse project in Fountaingrove cleared for construction

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The biggest new housing development in a Santa Rosa neighborhood torched by the Tubbs fire in October 2017 has been cleared by city officials to start construction.

The Santa Rosa Design Review Board on Thursday gave final design approval for the Round Barn Village, a 237-unit townhouse project in the Fountaingrove neighborhood.

San Francisco developer City Ventures plans to build and sell the three-story, three- to four-bedroom townhomes on a 40-acre tract. They are expected to have price tags in the $600,000 range. Twelve of them will be priced below market levels to make them more affordable.

Construction is expected to begin in April. Sales would start in the fall, with the first owners expected to move in during the summer of 2020, City Ventures’ development director Charity Wagner said Friday.

This final go-ahead for the development came almost a year after City Council approved the project. Council members initially hesitated because of concerns about building in a hillside area in the northern part of the city prone to wildfires.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9179365-181/santa-rosa-townhouse-project-in

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Santa Rosa City Council slashes development fees for downtown housing projects

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The council authorized reducing development fees over a five-year period as part of its downtown housing strategy, which envisions 3,400 apartment and condo units in the city center, mirroring a benchmark from a 2007 city plan. To date, only 100 of those downtown units have been built.

Santa Rosa is set to slash fees charged to builders in a bid to spur a new wave of high-rise housing development, part of a long-term overhaul of the city’s core envisioned more than a decade ago.

The City Council voted 6-0 on separate resolutions Tuesday night that together will result in immediate, sharp reductions in development fees tied to new housing for parks and infrastructure. The measures will also delay payment of fees charged for city utility hookups until the back end of a project, a sweetener that developers say makes it easier for new housing to pencil out.

It was the latest step in a series of City Council actions this year that are intended to speed the production of multi-family housing in the downtown area, now with a renovated transit center and a reunited Old Courthouse Square.

Council members were united in their praise for the measures, which come amid a housing crisis exacerbated by wildfires that last year wiped out more than 3,000 homes in Santa Rosa and 5,300 countywide.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8775929-181/santa-rosa-city-council-slashes

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We came, we planned, we were wrong

Pete Parkinson, NORTHERN NEWS (California Chapter of the American Planning Association)

You are all too familiar with the headline by now: California Is Burning.

Last fall, more than 6,000 homes were destroyed in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino counties (including my own home near Santa Rosa). Homes went up in flames in rural, sub-urban, and urban settings, including 3,000 homes lost within the city limits of Santa Rosa.

CalFire had designated some of those areas as very-high wildfire hazard; others (including my neighborhood) were considered “only” moderate wildfire hazard. Still other areas — like the suburban Coffey Park neighborhood in Santa Rosa where over 1,300 homes were lost — were not considered wildfire hazards at all.

This year has brought no relief. As I write (in mid-August), we’ve seen new wildfires sweep into the city of Redding and threaten Yosemite National Park. The Mendocino Complex, the largest wildfire in California history (eclipsing a record set only a few months ago in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties) continues to burn 45 miles north of Santa Rosa.

Wildfire hazards have been a consistent theme in my career as a planner and planning director in three northern California counties (Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Cruz). I have
overseen the preparation of General Plan Safety Elements, Local Hazard Mitigation Plans, and regulatory codes that addressed the full range of hazard management strategies, including road access, water supply, defensible space, and structural design. The underlying theme of these efforts was a belief that wildfire risks can be managed to an acceptable level of public safety, if not eliminated altogether. In fact,
I cannot recall any development project that was denied, or where the density was substantially reduced, because of known wildfire hazards.

The firestorm that swept into our Santa Rosa community last October has fundamentally changed my thinking about development in California’s fire-prone landscapes. Now, 10 months post-catastrophe, let me offer a few lessons learned from one planner’s perspective.

Read more at https://norcalapa.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Oct18.pdf

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Wikiup Commons developer downsizes plans for housing project

Nashelly Chavez, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A developer working for the Kendall-Jackson wine family announced plans Wednesday to downsize a housing project proposed for the former Wikiup Golf Course, drawing mixed reactions from about 130 community members at a neighborhood meeting.

The new plan would cut the number of houses by almost 40 percent in a move to address concerns from neighbors that the development could convert what was once a lush golf course to high-density housing with additional traffic.

“We went back to the engineers and the architects,” Tony Korman, who leads WBR and Korman Development, told the crowd gathered at San Miguel Elementary School on Wednesday afternoon. “We went back to look at the plan and make some revisions.”

The new plan is a scaled-back version of the project pitched to residents in July. In that design, nearly 100 homes would have been split between two locations on the property, named the Wikiup Commons.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8733356-181/wikiup-commons-developer-downsizes-plans?sba=AAS