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
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
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors signed off Tuesday on a wide-ranging suite of policy changes intended to encourage construction of more new homes, loosening restrictions on granny units and lowering other development hurdles seven months after nearly 5,300 residences were lost here in last year’s devastating wildfires.
Under the revised rules, homeowners in unincorporated areas could build a larger granny unit or fit one on a smaller property than the county allowed before, depending on the size of the site as well as its water and sanitation systems. County permitting officials will be able to sanction second units on even smaller lots through a separate process.
And homeowners looking to build more compact granny units will have to pay less in fees, part of an effort from the Board of Supervisors to promote what the county sees as one of its best options to expand housing in rural areas.
The new policy alone isn’t likely to trigger a large influx of housing in unincorporated neighborhoods, county leaders admitted. But it was the first in a series of housing initiatives expected to be brought forward in the coming months by county planning staff.
“How do we put the pedal to the metal and not just allow this, but encourage it?” said Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, referring to the overall housing package. “It seems like passing this sort of code and saying you can do it is one thing, but actually getting those projects built out is another.”
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8294123-181/sonoma-county-welcomes-granny-units
Alastair Bland, KCET
According to Anderson, vineyard managers frequently install drainage systems incorrectly, fail to plant required cover crops to control erosion, incorrectly place deer fences in a way that prevents free passage of smaller wildlife, and use pesticides illegally. She says erosion control measures often fail to work, causing loose sediment to wash into creeks. There it can smother gravel beds used by spawning salmon and steelhead, which have almost vanished from North Bay watersheds. Many biologists have pointed to vineyards as a leading cause of the fish declines.
In 2006, Napa County officials issued a permit for The Caves at Soda Canyon, a new winery in the hills east of the city of Napa. As most such project permits do, the document set strict limits on how the developer could build his winery.
But The Caves’ owner Ryan Waugh allegedly ignored some of these limitations. Waugh dug an unpermitted cave into a mountain, and hosted guests at unapproved ridgetop tasting patios. After county officials became aware of the violations, they ordered Waugh in 2014 to block off (but not fill in) the illegal cave, stop the unauthorized wine tastings and muffle a noisy generator.
Neighbors had complained about the generator’s din, claiming that Waugh had promised years earlier to connect his facility to silent power lines. They’re primarily concerned, however, about the winery’s impacts on local traffic and congestion.
County documents report that Waugh followed through on all orders to correct the violations (something neighbors, who say they can still hear the generator, dispute). Then, Waugh submitted a request for a modification to his permit, and in April, the Napa County Planning Commission voted to approve it. The new permit brings the unauthorized components of his operation into full legal compliance while also increasing The Cave’s annual production limit from 30,000 gallons of wine to 60,000. The decision is a win for Waugh, who has reportedly put his winery on the market for $12.5 million.
Neighbors say that laws don’t apply to people invested in Napa County’s influential wine industry.
“You can just drill an unpermitted cave and have unpermitted tastings, and just get retroactive approval from the county, and get more allowed production than you initially had,” says Anthony Arger, who lives nearby. Arger is concerned that The Caves’ enhanced use permits will lead to a dangerous increase in vehicle use on Soda Canyon Road.
The county’s decision to clear Waugh’s record while allowing him to enlarge his business illuminates what Arger and other community activists say is part of a countywide problem. They argue that Napa County officials, especially those in the Planning, Building and Environmental Services department, collude with the wine industry, ignoring violations of local rules, to increase wine production and tourist visits at the expense of the environment and local residents’ health and safety.
Read more at: Here’s How Big Wine Gets To Avoid Environmental Rules in Napa | KCET