Nadine Ono, CAFWD
Housing in Sonoma County was the top priority for political, business and philanthropic leaders who met last year after the devasting 2017 fires destroyed more than 5,100 homes. Since that first meeting participants hit the ground running to ensure the region not only recover lost housing, but also establish an environment to create new and affordable housing.
“We’re organizing a grassroots campaign to be pro-housing to support projects that come up,” said Santa Rosa Metro Chamber CEO Peter Rumble on the establishment of the Sonoma County Housing Council, which brings together 15 of the region’s largest employers to invest in housing projects and is in the process of establishing a local housing trust.
It is a much-needed vehicle in the region as there was previously no local housing fund. Added Rumble, “To be able to have a separate fund that can be used to help bridge the gap of affordable or workforce level housing in addition to any funds that might be available through the public process is a tremendous boon for the community.”
While the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber was creating the Housing Council, the City of Santa Rosa was laying the groundwork to make housing a priority.
“The big focus this past year has been on housing elements,” said David Guhin, Santa Rosa’s assistant city manager and director of economic development. “We put a number of policies into place over the past year in anticipation on focusing on infill development and setting ourselves up to be the leaders and the example of how the policies can help support achieving some of the housing goals that we want to achieve.”
The housing elements achieved by Santa Rosa include:
- Unanimous support of housing goals from the city council and making it a top five priority for the city
- Establishing new citywide housing policies including new accessory dwelling unit policies that reduce or eliminate some fees, feasibility study on the current inclusionary policy and an aggressive housing action plan
- New downtown housing policies that include creating a high-density residential incentive program, increasing building height requirements and decreasing parking requirements, express permitting, designating downtown as a Federal Opportunity Zone, offering density bonuses and evaluating city property for housing
- Create regional partnerships including a Renewal Enterprise District JPA, evaluating tax increment financing with Sonoma County and coordinating with the Employers Housing Council
Guhin added, “This is a fairly aggressive new model, it’s one that basically says we can’t do it alone and this won’t work unless everyone participates in some way. It’s encouraging to see employers sitting around a table talking about housing.”
Read more at http://cafwd.org/reporting/entry/a-model-for-achieving-housing-goals-takes-shape-in-sonoma-county
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
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
Hannah Beausang, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors unanimously approved Tuesday a slate of policy changes intended to pave the way for new types of housing, encourage the construction of smaller, more affordable units and help simplify development in certain areas after last year’s wildfires destroyed more than 5,300 homes.
The policy revisions, which only apply to urban areas where sewers are available, created a category for so-called cottage housing, or clusters of smaller units intended to provide options for people who earn too much to qualify for low-income housing but can’t afford market-rate units. It also created the possibility for building housing in some business and industrial districts, allowing workers to live close to jobs or transit hubs.
The board also altered the county’s policy for how density is assigned to each housing unit in certain zones. That allows for smaller units that can be rented at lower prices, such as micro-apartments under 500 square feet and one- to two-bedroom apartments, to count as a fraction of a unit. Previously, the code allowed a single unit to be any size, making it more attractive for developers to build larger units that generate higher rents.
Now, in an area where 10 units are allowed, a developer could choose to build 10 three- bedrooms units, 15 one-bedroom units or 30 micro-apartments.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8870843-181/sonoma-county-embraces-denser-urban
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
Will Carruthers, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
This weekend, Santa Rosa celebrated its 150th birthday. But, despite its age, Sonoma County’s largest city has never really grown up.
At a September 10 meeting of the City Council’s Economic Development Subcommittee, city staff presented the conclusions of a forthcoming report on why the city lacks tall residential buildings downtown and unveiled a plan to encourage developers to build them.
The report, based on suggestions from the Council of Infill Developers, will suggest legislative tactics to encourage developers to build market rate and affordable housing projects on vacant and underutilized land within the city, a process known as infill development.
According to the report, the reasons for developers’ reluctance include:
–Market demand for tall buildings with less parking remains “unproven,” making developers wary of investing in Santa Rosa.
–A perception from developers that the city’s staff and politicians lack enthusiasm for taller buildings.
–Prohibitively high permitting fees discourage developers from building higher.
Read more at https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/santa-rosa-city-council-to-consider-density-incentive-plan
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
Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa’s effort to entice more developers into downtown projects appears to be paying off, but plans for a new apartment building north of Old Courthouse Square may soon test whether new incentives can turn pretty pictures into needed housing.
Zach Berkowitz, the owner of a commercial building at 404 Mendocino Ave., is proposing to build a six-story, 135-unit apartment complex in two buildings on his and neighboring properties.
If approved by the city, the project could be ready for occupancy in 2020, and would provide the kind of affordable, infill housing the city and downtown business community desperately needs, Berkowitz said.
“We were talking about it before the fires, but when the fires happened it was just one more reason to generate housing downtown,” he said.
The October fires destroyed more than 3,000 homes in Santa Rosa. The city has since tried to streamline the rebuilding process and encourage developers to construct apartments downtown and near transportation hubs such as the SMART stations.
Berkowitz’s project would be the first to benefit from the faster permit process the city instituted after the fires, including limits on the role of the Design Review Board. The proposal gets its first public hearing before that board Thursday.
For the project to become a reality, however, the city is going to need to do more to incentivize downtown housing, a conversation that Berkowitz said is encouraging but far from complete.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8482715-181/with-new-downtown-project-santa
Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Santa Rosa City Council Tuesday narrowed the scope of its latest effort to streamline its permitting process in areas where it has prioritized housing.
The move was a reversal of a council vote earlier this month to cut the red tape for housing projects throughout the city, and was cast as a sign of the city’s renewed commitment to downtown development.
The council faced pressure to limit the streamlining effort to only those areas of the city known as “priority development areas,” which include Roseland and areas near transit, including downtown.
Groups such as the Greenbelt Alliance had argued that the city should do everything it can to incentivize housing closer to the infrastructure best able to handle it, such as Highway 101 and the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit line.
Mayor Chris Coursey, who voted for the more expansive version earlier this month, praised narrowing it Tuesday.
He said the change would help preserve a rare alliance between environmental and business concerns who agree on the importance of focusing development near downtown.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8349877-181/santa-rosa-narrows-permit-streamlining
Amy Appleton and Steve Birdlebough, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
High quality factory-built housing has been popular in Japan since the 1960s and has been widely used to expedite housing construction in Europe for over a decade. Unfortunately, too many of us here think of a run-down trailer park when someone mentions modular housing.
In the light of our ongoing housing shortage, worsened by the wildfires, new approaches such as assembly line construction are needed to speed the delivery of enough places for people to live here.
Factories can complete four to eight living units per day, whereas the on-site construction of a home takes close to a year.
Many fire victims now in hotels or Federam Emergency Management Agency trailers must find affordable housing elsewhere by April of 2019 — likely an impossible task for most. Factory-built living units may be the key to make timely housing available for these people.
Many fire victims have been taken in by family or friends. But life in a crowded home can be wearing. An extra factory-built room or granny unit to accommodate them could save relationships.
Also, we need to bring back the important members of our workforce who are now commuting from distant places. And how will we accommodate the construction workers needed to rebuild? More housing and shared housing are what thousands of people need.
Santa Rosa’s commendable goal is to enable speedy replacement of the 3,000 homes in the city that burned,and construction of more dwellings to restore the housing market. But with fewer than 100 building permits issued since the fires, little rebuilding is likely to finish by April 2019. Many more housing options are needed right away.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8171380-181/close-to-home-what-santa