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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

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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

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Santa Rosa gives final approval to 54-unit apartment complex for homeless and low-income residents

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

More than 50 studio apartments for homeless people in Santa Rosa are awaiting a final piece of funding before workers break ground on the project at the southwest corner of College and Cleveland avenues.

Arcata-based developer, builder and property manager Danco Communities received approval last week from the city zoning administrator to proceed with construction, clearing the last government hurdle for the 54-unit development, which is set to rise on what is now a 1-acre gravel lot.

All of the units except one reserved for an apartment manager will be made available to low-income and formerly homeless people, about 1,800 of whom live in Santa Rosa, according to an annual count earlier this year overseen by the Sonoma County Community Development Commission.

The project is one of several that Danco Communities is pursuing in Northern California; a similar apartment complex in Eureka is set to open by Christmas Eve. The Santa Rosa project is backed by about $10.5 million from a state bond measure voters approved in November, said Chris Dart, the company’s president.

“The need has been there for years, but the funding hasn’t been there to back it up,” he said.

The project is the latest seeking to offer permanent shelter for homeless people in Santa Rosa. Last year, the city saw a former firehouse in the Junior College neighborhood converted into a seven-unit apartment complex for homeless veterans. The city is eyeing both the former Bennett Valley Senior Center and the Gold Coin Motel on Mendocino Avenue as future housing that could shelter more than 100 homeless people.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9760008-181/santa-rosa-gives-final-approval?sba=AAS

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Santa Rosa approves long-awaited Roseland housing and retail project

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The council discussion took a turn when Councilwomen Julie Combs and Victoria Fleming raised questions about whether separating the market- rate and affordable apartments would amount to housing segregation on the basis of income. Fleming voiced concerns about disadvantaged outcomes for people who have grown up in segregated areas, such as Oakland and her native San Leandro. Combs recalled how whites and people of color used to have to use different water fountains under the guise of equality.

A development promising to transform a largely vacant commercial plot in Roseland into affordable apartments, retail shops and library space cleared a crucial hurdle Tuesday night, securing unanimous approval from the City Council.

A hearing on the Roseland Village Neighborhood Center, more than a decade in the making, ran more than three hours before the council advanced plans for the roughly 7.5-acre Sebastopol Road site, owned by the Sonoma County Community Development Commission. The site currently includes a Dollar Tree, the temporary Roseland library branch, and a large parking lot.

Council members favored the promise of new housing — up to 175 apartments — and potential economic benefits for the greater Roseland area over objections from a nearby landlord and some council members’ concerns that developers plan to build market-rate and affordable units in separate buildings and on different schedules.

“This is what we have been waiting for, in my opinion,” said Councilman John Sawyer, who was first elected in 2004. “I believe that ‘perfect project’ is an oxymoron. Roseland deserves it. Santa Rosa deserves it.”

The Community Development Commission, which bought the property nearly a decade ago, now is clear to sell part of the site to UrbanMix Development, a San Francisco real estate company that plans to round up an estimated $30 million in private financing to build 100 market-rate apartments on the eastern half of the site. On the western side, Foster City-based nonprofit developer MidPen Housing Corp. plans to apply for state and federal funds to come up with roughly $35 million for 75 more apartments restricted to low-income tenants.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9739332-181/santa-rosa-approves-long-awaited-roseland

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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