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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 City Council to consider downtown height incentive plan

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

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North Bay’s SMART train turns 1, eyes future growth

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

SMART CELEBRATION

What: A festival for SMART’s first year of operation will feature live music, food trucks and more than 30 booths. The train will also be free to passengers all weekend.

Benefit: Sales of beer and wine at the party will go to Becoming Independent, a Santa Rosa nonprofit that assists people with disabilities.

When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday

Where: Hamilton Station, Novato

Joyce Dawson, 79, waved goodbye to her daughter standing on the Sonoma- Marin Area Rail Transit platform in San Rafael before settling into her forward- facing seat for the hourlong journey to visit family in Santa Rosa aboard the 11:29 a.m. train on a recent Friday.

The trip is one Dawson, who lives in the town of Ross in Marin County, has taken weekly for several months, on the train service that began a year ago. She’s become a consistent rider after getting fed up with routine gridlock on Highway 101. The end of her ability to drive sealed her reliance on the new transit system to make the voyage, and she’s happy to enjoy the day’s Wall Street Journal over a handful of Fritos corn chips while avoiding the stress of travel.

“It’s so easy, I barely even have to pay attention to the stops,” said Dawson, who’s lived in Marin County her entire life. “I think they do a good job. Anything to get cars off the road.”

Others along for the ride were SMART first-timers who were just as keen on the experience as the train left the station. The chance to buy and drink wine en route to a lunch in downtown Santa Rosa to celebrate a co-worker’s new job didn’t hurt.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8642140-181/north-bays-smart-train-turns

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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

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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Op-Ed: Break down regulatory barriers before passing a tax for housing

Brian Ling, CEO of the Sonoma County Alliance, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

We all love Sonoma County, but the protections we have implemented, such as growth ordinances, urban growth boundaries, community separators, the open space district and an incredibly public and intensive approval process, have led to our housing crisis of under supply, over demand and incredibly high prices (even before the fires). Our residents need to universally support the projects that are being proposed within current general plan guidelines, particularly those within transit-oriented and other priority development areas. We (NIMBYS too!)voted in these protections to support the growth of new urbanism concepts. We need to support these projects now.

Today’s housing crisis is a product of land-use decisions made over the past three decades combined with a significant increase in unnecessary and/or duplicative rules and regulations. There is no question that the October fires put an exclamation point on the housing crisis. However, it is imperative to reverse this trend of housing barriers before the community further taxes ourselves toward a solution.

The Board of Supervisors, the Santa Rosa City Council and their planning departments should be commended for implementing policies to expedite rebuilding in the fire zones and priority development areas. However, additional opportunities remain that must be applied to all development within the respective general plans, not just within the fire zones. The Sonoma County Alliance believes taking action is required to positively impact new housing opportunities.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/8453619-181/close-to-home-break-down?sba=AAS

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Developer expands proposal for Rohnert Park downtown district at former State Farm campus

Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Plans for RP development

The developer pitching an extensive redevelopment project in central Rohnert Park is seeking to both expand and accelerate its aspirations to create a vibrant downtown hub along the city’s commuter rail station.

Station Avenue, formerly called Rohnert Station, envisions a mixed-use development that would include homes, offices, retail shops and a hotel on a 32-acre campus just south of Rohnert Park Expressway. The sprawling, 320,000-square-foot facility was previously occupied by State Farm Insurance but has sat vacant since the company left in 2011.

Laulima Development, the San Francisco-based developer who bought it for $13.5 million last December, intends to submit its final development application to the city in the coming weeks.

It seeks to increase the combined amount of office and retail space to 250,000 square feet — a more than 40 percent expansion from an initial proposal — at least partly in response to high levels of interest from prospective tenants.

“For us, if we really want to create a meaningful downtown — that sense of place — we need that critical mass,” said David Bouquillon, managing partner of Laulima. “Early on, it was light. We’re always try to balance for that perfect ratio.”

The new downtown district, located next to the city’s existing SMART train commuter platform, also would include 415 units of market-rate housing spread across 150 for-sale homes and the remaining number in above-office rental lofts and apartments. While that total is unchanged from the earlier plans, the new layout also makes room for a new 156-room hotel to be built by a partner developer.

“We’ve been getting a lot of demands for hotels, and it piqued our interest,” Bouquillon said. “We found a way to make it work and it adds to the urban downtown, so we put that in the application.”

As part of the announcement last week, the company unveiled a new website with design renderings, a site plan, as well as a countdown to completion.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8413938-181/developer-expands-proposal-for-rohnert

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Santa Rosa narrows permit streamlining to areas near transit

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

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A bold, divisive plan to wean Californians from cars

Conor Dougherty and Brad Plumer, THE NEW YORK TIMES

It’s an audacious proposal to get Californians out of their cars: a bill in the State Legislature that would allow eight-story buildings near major transit stops, even if local communities object.

The idea is to foster taller, more compact residential neighborhoods that wean people from long, gas-guzzling commutes, reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

So it was surprising to see the Sierra Club among the bill’s opponents, since its policy proposals call for communities to be “revitalized or retrofitted” to achieve precisely those environmental goals. The California chapter described the bill as “heavy-handed,” saying it could cause a backlash against public transit and lead to the displacement of low-income residents from existing housing.

State Senator Scott Wiener, the bill’s sponsor, responded by accusing the group of “advocating for low-density sprawl.”

In a state where debates often involve shades of blue, it’s not uncommon for the like-minded to find themselves at odds. But the tensions over Mr. Wiener’s proposal point to a wider divide in the fight against climate change, specifically how far the law should go to reshape urban lifestyles.

Although many cities and states are embracing cleaner sources of electricity and encouraging people to buy electric vehicles, they are having a harder time getting Americans to drive less, something that may be just as important.

Read more at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/16/business/energy-environment/climate-density.html

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SMART selling land near downtown Santa Rosa station to housing developer 

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The vacant lot next to Santa Rosa’s downtown train station is being sold to a developer with plans for a highly anticipated transit-oriented housing and commercial center.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, which begins service on Friday, has agreed to sell its 5.4-acre property west of the Railroad Square station to ROEM Development Corp. of Santa Clara for $5.75 million.
The deal inked Tuesday calls for the sale to be finalized only after the developer wins necessary approvals from the city for the $85 million project, which could include several hundred residential units.
The sale agreement was structured with payments required at key junctures over 28 months to motivate ROEM to move forward with the project quickly, said Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager.
“We didn’t want an open-ended contract,” Mansourian said. “We want to see shovels in the ground. We want action.”
The deal could pave the way for the single largest rail-oriented housing and commercial development in Sonoma County. The property and neighboring land that is the site of a former brick cannery building have been eyed for more than a decade as prime downtown development opportunities.
Read more at: SMART selling land near downtown Santa Rosa station to housing developer | The Press Democrat