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Sonoma County supervisors back study of Fulton Road SMART station

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday capped a month of speculation about behind-the-scenes jockeying over a third Santa Rosa-area SMART station, voting 4-1 to fund a study of a new stop in north Santa Rosa.

The discussion had initially pit supervisors Lynda Hopkins and James Gore against Supervisor Shirlee Zane and board Chairman David Rabbitt, as Hopkins and Gore favored a Fulton Road location in north Santa Rosa and Zane favored a station in southwest Santa Rosa, near Roseland or Moorland Avenue. Rabbitt wanted to know where the $11 million to build such a station would ever come from before agreeing to study it.

In the end, Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents parts of eastern Santa Rosa and the entire Sonoma Valley, was the lone board member to vote against the $50,000 study of the Fulton site.

Supervisors began the discussion with an attempt to dispel reports they had been squabbling about the location. But they ended with a threat from Gorin that Sonoma Valley likely wouldn’t support tax renewal for SMART because it doesn’t directly serve her constituents. Hopkins chimed in that deliberations reflected the board’s need for a therapy dog.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10151507-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-back-study

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , , , ,

Sonoma County supervisors remove granny unit restrictions on some farm parcels

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Last year, Jennifer Mann sold her home in Santa Rosa’s Junior College District around the same time her son and daughter-in-law sold their home in downtown Sebastopol.

With the goal of establishing a “family compound,” they bought a home in rural Sebastopol, a unique, three-story, dome-shaped house that looks like a cross between a barn and an observatory.

It’s cramped for a growing family. Mann, a retired Santa Rosa Junior College employee, lives on the first floor, her two grandkids on the second and her son and daughter-in-law on the third.

“We have three acres and we always planned to build a second unit for me, so I could live on the land,” Mann said.

Until recently those plans were hindered by a county zoning restriction known as a “Z District,” which prohibits the construction of granny units in certain agricultural zones.

The restriction was aimed at preserving the county’s agricultural resources and preventing nonfarming residences from encroaching into agricultural lands. However, many smaller parcels restricted by a Z District do not qualify for farm-related housing because they do not meet size and agriculture production requirements.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10091428-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-remove-granny

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Sonoma County supervisors at odds over location of proposed 3rd Santa Rosa SMART station

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County supervisors are jostling behind the scenes on the location of a possible third SMART station in Santa Rosa or on its outskirts, with two members of the five-person board planning to ask for the money to study a site in Fulton at a county meeting next month.

Supervisors James Gore and Lynda Hopkins are pressing for the Fulton location and have both recently met with Farhad Mansourian, general manager of Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, about a plan that would see the county pay for a feasibility study for the proposed station near Fulton and River roads, just north of city limits.

But Supervisor Shirlee Zane, a 10-year member of the SMART board of directors, would prefer to see a potential third station for the city’s 175,000 people in the southwestern area of Santa Rosa, near Roseland. That part of town has a large Latino population and could benefit from the increased access to public transit, she said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10007629-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-at-odds?sba=AAS

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Rohnert Park to review proposal for 1,400 homes on 269 acres north of SSU

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A homebuilder has embarked upon the initial step to develop a major chunk of agricultural land in northeast Rohnert Park, asking the city to increase by a third the number of units allowed on the mostly vacant property long designated for housing.

The development group led by Pleasanton-based Signature Homes submitted an application to the city last month seeking to bump up the number of homes built on the 269-acre site to more than 1,400 — about 350 more units than envisioned in city’s original plan two decades ago. The property, which sits outside city limits, is one of the last sizable pieces of undeveloped land on the city’s northeastern outskirts. It is north of Sonoma State University and east of Snyder Lane, and bordered on the south by the even larger University District housing development.

On Tuesday, the City Council will review the entire proposal, which Signature Homes estimates would add 3,700 residents to the city of about 43,000 people. The study session will allow council members to weigh in on the density of the proposed development.

Moving forward will require the city to formally annex the property into the city. Rural single-family homes sit on a dozen of the 36 parcels.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9943928-181/rohnert-park-to-review-proposal

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Op-Ed: Turning a freeway right-of-way to green space

Thea Hensel and Tony White, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For more than 50 years, a two-mile strip of land in southeast Santa Rosa remained vacant and unused. Originally purchased by Caltrans as a right-of-way for Highway 12, the freeway was never built and the land remains neglected. When it was proposed to extend the freeway through Spring Lake Park, community opposition led to abandoning that proposal, and neighbors started thinking of converting this empty land into an asset, an urban greenway.

In 2009, local citizens formed the Santa Rosa Southeast Greenway Campaign, which developed a vision for the land and organized a campaign to plan and promote a greenway. From the start, the project attracted a team of natural leaders with extensive business and government experience. Applying their skills, they recruited a host of volunteers to spread the word and promote the Southeast Greenway.

The campaign forged alliances with local officials and agencies, environmental, educational, running and biking groups and raised funds to engage the community. In 2014, Caltrans decided to rescind the freeway designation and offered to give Santa Rosa the opportunity to purchase the land for a greenway.

Meanwhile, the campaign continued its work, creating a partnership with the Sonoma Land Trust, Sonoma Water, Sonoma County Regional Parks, Land Paths and the city of Santa Rosa. It is a shining example of a public-private partnership in which grassroots activists work for the benefit of the greater community.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/9903430-181/close-to-home-turning-a

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Buyer backs out of multi-million dollar Chanate Road deal with Sonoma County

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The leading bidder for a 72-acre Santa Rosa site slated for affordable housing has pulled out of the process amid worries about prolonged delays from litigious neighbors and the two-step, county-city approval required to build up to 750 units on the former county hospital complex.

California Community Housing Agency, a public entity that taps into the municipal bond market to craft affordable housing projects across the state, told Sonoma County officials Tuesday afternoon it was dropping its bid to buy the Chanate Road property.

The news, confirmed by multiple county officials, comes a month after the agency and its partners were tapped as the leading bidders, with a complex proposal that promised the county a share of the equity in the project, as well as the option to acquire the property and re-sell it 15 years later while cashing in on market-value increases. It would have given the county a $5 million advance on the equity as well.

The developer’s exit delivers another blow to the county’s yearslong attempt to offload the sprawling former health care campus for redevelopment as housing. Both the withdrawn bid and a preceding proposal put forward under a controversial failed sale to a local developer two years ago stood to be the single largest housing project in Santa Rosa in a generation.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9902915-181/buyer-backs-out-of-multi-million

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Developer again delays $400 million downtown Rohnert Park development

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Rohnert Park will have to wait longer on its downtown city center project, but how long is not known.

Officials with Laulima Development, the San Francisco firm that owns the 32-acre former State Farm Insurance property approved in November for a $400 million residential and commercial development dubbed Station Avenue, delivered news of major delays to the City Council on Tuesday night.

The developer blamed continued postponement of the project on rising labor and materials costs — including on lumber and cement — following the North Bay fires, in addition to competitive pressures from the Bay Area’s building boom.

Originally, construction was supposed to start earlier this year, with the 270,000 square feet of retail and office space ready by fall 2020. The 460 rental housing units and a 156-room luxury hotel would follow by spring 2021.

“I’m just very disappointed with where we’re at right now,” said Vice Mayor Joe Callinan, who owns a residential and light commercial construction business. “If we started right now it would be 2022, I bet. We’re not even close to that.”

David Bouquillon, Laulima’s managing partner, said he’d continue to work with the city in the coming weeks to come up with cost-saving measures to build the sprawling development as soon as possible.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9900595-181/developer-again-delays-400-million

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Land UseTags , ,

Vision for housing and hotel development in northern Healdsburg challenged in court

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Healdsburg has begun its review of a developer’s proposal to build what would be the city’s largest housing project, a plan on the north end of town that has restoked the fiery debate in this Wine Country destination over the pace of residential growth and hotel development.

Already, the proposal by Southern California-based Comstock Homes has drawn a legal challenge against the city, with opponents asserting the expansive development would run afoul of state environmental regulations.

The project, on a vacant former lumber yard bounded by Healdsburg Avenue and Highway 101 north of Simi Winery, currently calls for more than 350 units of housing and a 120-room hotel.

The housing would be split between 132 income-restricted rental units for the local workforce and a 220-unit senior living community. Plans also call for 20,000 square feet of retail space.

“We have a vision to provide something sorely needed in the community,” said Debra Geiler, Comstock’s director of entitlements. “The mix of housing units and the hotel and all of it is sort of the economic balance. If we succeed, what we will be able to provide to Healdsburg is a paradigm shift in community design and creating neighborhoods.”

But Sebastopol-based California River Watch has filed suit contending that Healdsburg failed to lawfully account for the greenhouse gas emissions the luxury hotel would generate. The lawsuit is a key piece of the group’s goal to force local governments to more closely account for the climate impacts of commercial growth and the region’s tourism economy.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9850091-181/vision-for-housing-and-hotel

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Sonoma County housing construction fund formed by Silicon Valley trust, Santa Rosa chamber

Gary Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

Link to Strategic Sonoma Action Plan.

To accelerate the development of critically needed housing for workers in Sonoma County, the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber is teaming up with a Silicon Valley nonprofit to create a $10 million housing fund.

The Sonoma County Housing Fund, a partnership between the chamber and Housing Trust Silicon Valley, is designed to raise and leverage local funds to increase the supply of affordable housing in Sonoma County.

The chamber will work to secure and deploy local investments for the fund while Housing Trust Silicon Valley will underwrite, approve and administer loans for housing development. It is modeled on a similar collaboration between the Housing Trust and the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, a group of public, private and civic entities in Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties.

Chamber CEO Peter Rumble stated it is reaching out to major employers to invest in the fund, as well as to foundations, private individuals, developers and others.

“If our kids are going to have a good education, we need to make sure our teachers can afford to live here,” said Rumble. “If our technology companies are going to thrive, we need to be able to recruit engineers. If we are going to be able to care for our aging population, our hospitals need to keep nurses and doctors living here. If our tourism industry is going to continue to be the envy of the world, we need to make sure there is a thriving workforce in our community. All of this comes back to creating housing throughout Sonoma County, and while the Sonoma County Housing Trust isn’t the single solution, it is an important step forward.”

The chamber will be responsible for endorsing projects for funding the Sonoma County trust, in consultation with the Employer Housing Council, composed of the 15 largest employers and educational institutions in the North Bay along with the North Coast Builders Exchange. Rumble is also co-chairman of the housing council along with Keith Woods, CEO of the builders exchange.

Under a memorandum of understanding it signed with the chamber in June, the role of Housing Trust Silicon Valley is to underwrite, approve and administer loans for infill projects in urban and priority development areas. To encourage local investment and spur more affordable projects, Housing Trust Silicon Valley will provide approximately $2 of matching money for every $1 dollar raised by the chamber for the fund.

Read more at https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/9804595-181/housing-silicon-valley-santa-rosa-sonoma?ref=related

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Santa Rosa weighs options for downtown development through 2040

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

More information is available online at plandowntownsr.com.

Santa Rosa’s downtown could add 7,000 new homes and more than 2,000 jobs housed in a collection of tall buildings over the next two decades while connecting Fourth Street through the Santa Rosa Plaza mall, according to three versions of a new plan to transform the heart of the largest city in Sonoma County.

The three proposed plan alternatives — dubbed “Vibrant Core,” “Village Centers” and “Transit Forward” — all would continue a current plan to eventually connect Fourth Street, which is divided by the downtown mall. The plans are going before the City Council and the Planning Commission at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Santa Rosa City Hall.

Santa Rosa’s current plan, adopted in 2007, envisions about 3,400 new homes downtown to be built over 20 years. Only 375 units have been built or approved, according to city data. Over the past few years, spurred by the October 2017 fires, Santa Rosa has ramped up efforts to entice new housing development, particularly near its two Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit stations.

All three new plan options are estimated to result in 7,000 new homes in the downtown area and between 2,000 and 4,000 new jobs, though the precise location of the new housing varies. Each would include some sort of connection through the mall property, though they differ on whether this proposed passage would be a full street or a route just for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The eventual downtown plan will likely combine elements of all three plans based on feedback from city officials, residents and others with interest in Santa Rosa’s future downtown, said Andrew Hill, a principal with Dyett & Bhatia, an Oakland-based consulting firm helping Santa Rosa cobble together a single vision by the end of the year.

“We’ll be letting people kick the tires on those various different alternatives to understand the pros and cons,” he said, noting that the idea of a connected Fourth Street through the mall property has been “resoundingly supported” by members of the public.

Read more at https://www.northbaybusinessjournal.com/northbay/sonomacounty/9804179-181/santa-rosa-downtown-housing-real-estate