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Sonoma County hotel sector poised for expansion

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sonoma County’s hoteliers are playing catch-up to make room for the growing number of visitors.

The lodging industry is undergoing unprecedented expansion with about a dozen properties slated to open in the next few years.

The hotel building boom comes after a dearth of new lodging in the earlier part of the decade. Developers and hoteliers now appear to be making up for inactivity in the aftermath of the Great Recession, as the county remains a prime destination for wine tourism and an array of other activities and places to visit.

“This is a very strong county. … The occupancy level is very, very high,” said Jan Freitag, senior vice president for STR, a Tennessee research firm and longtime tracker of the global hotel industry. “Developers see a hot market and say, ‘Let’s get into it.’”

Developers are betting Sonoma County can keep delivering more tourists. It’s averaging about 7.5 million visitors a year. Those visitors are staying in more than 7,000 hotel rooms and 3,700 campground and recreational vehicle spaces, according to Sonoma County Tourism figures.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9247313-181/sonoma-county-lodging-sector-bustling

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Santa Rosa’s new granny unit policies spur secondary home spike as city works to build housing

Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

New data shows Santa Rosa received more applications to build “granny units” last year than it had in the entire preceding decade, evidence that the city’s efforts to spur housing just about any way it can is starting to yield results.

Property owners last year applied for permits to add 118 secondary homes, small living spaces adjacent to traditional single-family residences, according to new city data. The number of applications was well above the previous record of 33 in 2017 and exceeds the 85 applications for secondary homes from 2008 to 2017.

Vice Mayor Chris Rogers recently touted the record application figure on Twitter and emphasized the “symbiotic relationship” between a homeowner with a secondary unit and the renter living on their property.

“It creates, hopefully, an affordable housing unit while also helping somebody who may be struggling to live here as well,” Rogers said in an interview.

Thirty nine applications for secondary homes in 2018 were submitted in areas leveled by the October 2017 fires, which destroyed about 5 percent of Santa Rosa’s housing stock. Rogers noted that efforts to make it easier and less expensive to build secondary homes were not the sole change Santa Rosa made to address its housing shortage but was part of “a whole array of housing reforms we needed to make to give people places to live.”

The number of units jumped after the City Council, acting in the wake of the 2017 fires, approved a set of changes to make it easier for homeowners to build additional small housing units on their property in conjunction with state deregulation efforts.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9207543-181/santa-rosas-new-granny-unit

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

Santa Rosa passes spending plan for housing bond

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Environmental aspects of the housing bond

Downtown: Projects located in the downtown and along transit corridors, areas known as priority development areas, would receive priority.

Greenbelts off limits: No projects funded with the money would be built in community separators or greenbelts, through land-use rules already prohibiting that.

Green projects: Projects that use climate-smart, all-electric or net zero construction methods would be prioritized.

The Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday unanimously supported a spending plan for the $124 million housing bond on the November ballot, but only after deadlocking on the contentious issue of how much union labor should be used on projects built with the money.

Labor groups had asked the council to pass guidelines requiring 30 percent of the jobs go to union workers — 20 percent union apprentices and 10 percent journeymen to train them — arguing that people building the housing should be able to afford to live in it.

But under pressure from business groups including those representing nonunion contractors, the council deadlocked 3-3 on the full 30 percent union requirement. Moments later it voted 6-0 to approve a plan earmarking 20 percent of the jobs for union apprentices — but no job guarantees for union journeymen.

The ideological impasse, which has been simmering for weeks, frustrated many of the council members and union members who attended the meeting. Mayor Chris Coursey said it was imperative that the disagreement not imperil the bond’s chances at the ballot box.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8612091-181/santa-rosa-passes-spending-plan

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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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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 Op-Ed: Moving ahead on local housing

Op-Ed: Moving ahead on local housing

Julie Combs, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Our housing crisis started with job growth outpacing new home construction at a rate of 12 to 1, according to according to the regional Equity Analysis Report for Plan Bay Area 2040.

This lack of supply was further complicated by the significant loss of federal and state housing dollars, including redevelopment funds, plus broader trends like increasing income inequality, changing tax policies and wage stagnation.

Locally, we bear the added burden of so many neighbors tragically losing their homes in the fires last year.

Recently, though, we’ve seen communities in Alameda, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties vote to invest in new, local affordable housing projects. I believe we should follow their model, so we too can build more homes for our teachers, nurses, trades people, restaurant and winery workers — homes that every middle class family that works here can afford.

And we want to do so while ensuring our health and environment remain protected.

We need to design solutions to today’s housing challenges, not go backward with old ideas like “it’s the economy versus the environment” as is often implied.

That was always a false choice and, over the years, voters have seen through such misinformation. That’s why they continue to vote for urban growth boundaries, managed growth ordinances, community separators and protected open spaces. We should continue to trust local voters’ wisdom on these issues.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8529818-181/close-to-home-moving-ahead

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 Land Use, WildlifeTags , , ,

SDC study recommends confining development to existing campus

Chris Lee, KENWOOD PRESS

For more information about the site: Transform SDC

A conceptual plan for the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) proposes large portions be designated for wildlife corridors and natural areas, with any new development confined to the existing central campus. This outline was presented at a June 23 “community workshop,” hosted by the consulting firm Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT), authors of a pending 3,000-page “Existing Conditions Report,” to offer a preview of its findings. Some 200 people attended.

The material that was presented focused primarily on the results of surveys and community outreach about the 860-acre campus, and an inventory of campus land and buildings. Notably, the land use proposal was presented as a recommendation from the consulting firm, not merely an expression of public opinion. “This is a framework for how we think the conversation should move forward,” WRT Principal Jim Stickley said.

The community input that informed the study was more direct. “A large hotel or resort would be seen as a failure,” said Tania Carlone, a facilitator for Consensus Building Institute, a subcontractor of WRT. “The general feeling was that there is a saturation of luxury homes, of tourism. Folks were consistently concerned that the development in the core campus could encroach on the open space.”

Supervisor Susan Gorin agreed that the community wants open space and parks. “This is who we are and this is what we value and believe in,” she said. Economist Walter Kieser of Economic & Planning Systems, another WRT expert, cautioned that the county’s housing shortage and low residential vacancy rate could create pressure to explore other options. “You see tension between uses that have a lot of market potential and uses that have a lot of community value,” he said. In the subsequent question and answer session, local resident Scott Braun was explicit about the possibility of a big development. “Anyone who thinks there aren’t plans out there is living in a fool’s paradise.”

Commissioned by the state, the $2 million WRT study began 14 months ago but was interrupted by the October fires. Completion is expected in July or August. As part of the study, 65 community members were interviewed. From this input, consultants identified five community priorities: protection of SDC land and water, preservation of a legacy of care, community character and historical preservation, contribution to economic diversity and viability of Sonoma Valley, and a focus on community benefit.

Read more at http://www.kenwoodpress.com/pub/a/10018?full=1

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , Leave a comment on With new downtown project, Santa Rosa housing policies face a test

With new downtown project, Santa Rosa housing policies face a test

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

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Kendall-Jackson wine family seeks community input on future of former Wikiup Golf Course

Susan Minichiello, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Sandy Steele doesn’t play golf, but before she lost her Wikiup Drive home in the October wildfires she relished the peaceful routine of walking her Labrador retrievers along the former Wikiup Golf Course.

Now in a rental with her husband about a mile from their homesite, she still visits her old street frequently and plans to rebuild. Just the other day, she was delighted to watch a mama fox chase a deer near the old fairways.

Alongside many other Larkfield-Wikiup residents, Steele, 75, hopes the former Wikiup Golf Course retains its country-style feel.

The future of the 31-acre property is now the topic of widespread discussion in the neighborhood after the family that owns the Kendall-Jackson wine empire revealed they purchased the golf course in 2015. And they’ve asked for community input on what the property should become.

Katie Jackson, vice president for sustainability and external affairs at Jackson Family Wines, hosted a June 14 meeting at San Miguel Elementary for area residents to give feedback on how the property — renamed Wikiup Commons — should be developed. About 150 area residents expressed their hopes, thoughts and concerns for the future of the former golf course, including the possibility of new housing to help replace some of the thousands of homes that burned down in the October wildfires.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8446010-181/kendall-jackson-wine-family-seeks-community