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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

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Healdsburg set to limit future downtown hotels, require affordable housing offsets on new projects

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Amid a growing public outcry over the proliferation of hotel rooms downtown, Healdsburg’s city council has asked staff to draft a new ordinance banning any more hotels in the town’s central retail hub.

The council’s directive, issued Monday, follows a surge of complaints from residents over the past year and a recent community survey that showed support for slowing hotel growth.

In addition to barring hotel construction in the downtown core, the ordinance would create new affordable housing requirements and limit new lodging projects within the wider downtown district to five or fewer rooms, with no more than five total rooms on each side of downtown streets.

The affordable housing mandate, which received unanimous support, would require developers of hotel rooms to create one affordable housing unit for every five hotel rooms built, or pay a yet-to-be-determined fee that would go toward a fund aimed at creating such housing.

The decision, which still requires council endorsement at later public meetings, comes as a response to a recent spike in hotels, namely in the downtown core where visitor accommodations have increasingly displaced local businesses.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8654337-181/healdsburg-set-to-limit-future

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Op-Ed: Building boldly towards the future

Jake McKenzie and Teri Shore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

If we stay on track with city-centered growth and greenbelt protection, Sonoma County can usher in new era of thriving, affordable neighborhoods in cities and towns near jobs, schools and transit. If they stray, we could face a generation of scattered development on the urban edge and across the countryside that will cost us far more in public health, climate costs, congestion and loss of water and environmental quality, to say nothing of the natural beauty and the high quality of life that we love and enjoy in Sonoma County.

The tragic loss of homes in the October fires and the critical need for more affordable homes countywide is prompting a bold new look at how we revitalize our communities in Sonoma County. Greenbelt Alliance and our allies are looking forward, not backward, to meet the challenge of providing affordable homes to people who are vital to our communities and economy: teachers, doctors, restaurant cooks, winery and vineyard employees, young professionals and families and others. And we are convinced we can do this while ensuring the protection of our health and environment.

That is why we support investment in housing in our downtowns and existing neighborhoods to provide housing across the income spectrum while upholding environmental protections and longstanding growth policies. We reject recently published claims that we need to weaken environmental standards in order to recover and rebuild after last year’s fires.

To the contrary, our county has the chance to be on the cutting edge of creating a new generation of climate-friendly neighborhoods as we rebuild and invigorate new development.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8599327-181/close-to-home-building-boldly

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Op-Ed: Thinking big, really big, about the Bay Area

Joe Matthews, CONNECTING CALIFORNIA

Welcome to the Bay Area, Merced!

And welcome as well to Modesto, Sacramento and Yuba City. Looking south, you’re invited, too, Santa Cruz, Monterey and Salinas. And while you’re almost in another state, don’t worry, Tahoe City, the Bay waters are warm.

This expanded notion of the Bay Area’s reach isn’t a joke. It reflects the biggest thinking about California’s future. If you’re in a smaller Northern California region that can’t compete with the advanced grandeur of the Bay Area, why not join forces with the Bay Area instead?

The Bay Area would benefit too. It is one of four Northern California regions — along with the greater Sacramento area, the northern San Joaquin Valley and the Central Coast triumvirate of Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties — that struggle with severe challenges in housing, land use, jobs, transportation, education and the environment. Since such problems cross regional boundaries, shouldn’t the regions address them together as one giant region?

The Northern California megaregion — a concept developed by a think tank, the Bay Area Council Economic Institute — includes 12 million people and 21 counties, extending from Wine Country to the lettuce fields of the Salinas Valley and from the Pacific to the Nevada border.

The places of the megaregion are integrating as people search a wider geography for jobs, housing and places to expand their businesses. The trouble is that this growth is imbalanced. The megaregion is home to the mega-rich in San Francisco and poor cities like Stockton, Salinas and Vallejo. As high housing prices push people out of the Bay Area, they head to the rest of the megaregion, only to find they are too far away from their jobs and schools. The results: brutal traffic that produces more greenhouse gases and longer commutes.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8575490-181/mathews-thinking-big-really-big

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Rohnert Park City Council seeks deal on housing proposed on Press Democrat industrial property

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Rohnert Park City Council instructed staff Tuesday to negotiate an agreement with a developer seeking to build an apartment complex on industrial property owned by the parent company of The Press Democrat.

In a 4-1 vote, the council overruled city staff, who recommended an outright denial of the proposal to rezone the land for housing. Instead, council members directed staff to work out a deal with a Petaluma developer seeking to buy the property.

Members of the council suggested a portion of the project be dedicated to affordable housing units in exchange for rezoning the 6.5-acre site behind The Press Democrat printing plant, where Advanced Building Solutions hopes to construct an apartment complex with up to 156 units.

“It’s important that wherever we have an opportunity to, at this time, add to the housing stock of apartments, that this is something that we should be considering,” said Councilman Jake Mackenzie. “I think this is also the opportune time for something like this to come in front of us, when we do have a housing crisis in this county.”

City staff, including City Manager Darrin Jenkins and Planning Manager Jeff Beiswenger, urged the council to reject the rezoning application. They argued it would result in potential conflicts between future residents and occupants of the surrounding industrial parcels, and was unnecessary because of the amount of land remaining in the city to meet housing demands.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8542763-181/rohnert-park-city-council-seeks

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Kendall-Jackson wine family proposes housing development at former Wikiup Golf Course

Susan Minichiello, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The family that owns the Kendall-Jackson wine empire has unveiled plans to build nearly 100 homes on the former Wikiup Golf Course, converting half of the 31-acre property into a housing development.

The remaining half of the property, renamed Wikiup Commons, would be dedicated to open space or parkland, including a possible trail along Mark West Creek.

The development would place 39 homes and eight secondary housing units on 5 acres in the northern part of the property, near Pheasant and Carriage Lane. The secondary units, or “granny units,” would accompany a single-family home.

On the southern side, there would be 59 homes and three secondary units on about 10 acres. The homes would range in size from about 1,000 to 2,800 square feet, according to an open letter to neighbors by Katie Jackson, vice president for sustainability and external affairs at Jackson Family Wines.

“The diversity of housing proposed would offer first-time home buyers the chance to enjoy our beautiful community while providing those wishing to downsize a perfect opportunity to be a part of our neighborhood,” Jackson wrote after introducing the proposed plans at a July 11 meeting.

While there’s a desperate need for housing in Sonoma County, many Larkfield-Wikiup residents expressed opposition at a June meeting to high-density housing in the area. Several say the current proposal tries to squeeze too much housing into the neighborhood north of Santa Rosa.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8542844-181/kendall-jackson-wine-family-proposes-housing

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , Leave a comment on Construction is accelerating, but will pace keep up with demand?

Construction is accelerating, but will pace keep up with demand?

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

For at least a decade the tract housing subdivision sat uncompleted in west Santa Rosa — a repossessed field with a looped, asphalt road and most of the sidewalks installed.

But this spring foundations and framed walls arose from the ground along Sebastopol Road near the Courtside Village neighborhood. Plans there call for the construction of 51 single-family homes and 16 attached units.

“We plan to build all 67 just as fast as we can,” said Richard Lafferty, president and CEO of Lafferty Communities, a San Ramon-based homebuilding company. The project is one of the few remaining that sat for years after the original developers gave properties back to banks in the midst of a historic housing market crash.

Like the as-yet-unbranded subdivision, the Sonoma County new home sector is showing signs of life.

Builders are slowly making a comeback after enduring an unprecedented slowdown in the years following the recession. This year builders have broken ground for new subdivisions from Rohnert Park to Windsor for the first of hundreds of homes that are expected to be built in the next five years.

The home construction season appears on track to be the busiest in at least a decade. That is partly because hundreds of homes are being rebuilt in areas ravaged from last fall’s wildfires.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/8504287-181/housing-construction-accelerates-in-sonoma?sba=AAS

Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

The trail blazers: local eco-pioneers lead the way

Jonah Raskin, THE SONOMA VALLEY SUN

Last October’s firestorms stunned Sonoma Valley citizens, though once the smoke cleared and embers were extinguished, families and friends ventured out to see the spectacle of blooming flowers and green trees.
Richard Dale, the executive director for 26 years at the Sonoma Ecology Center (SEC), said that the disaster brought about “heightened interest in the environment.” Some of that concern, he added, was “about the need to prevent future fires” and some was “amazement at the natural world.”

In light of our recent fires, and droughts and floods, it might be useful to remember that the pioneers who crossed the plains, forded rivers and scaled mountains were the opposite of conservationists. In fact, they made a continental-sized mess by slashing forests, exhausting soils, polluting waters, exterminating Indians tribes and decimating wild life.

Read more at http://sonomasun.com/2018/06/21/the-trail-blazers-local-eco-pioneers-lead-the-way/