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Sonoma County embraces denser urban developments


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.


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Santa Rosa looks for new ways to accelerate development permitting

As Santa Rosa grapples with a historic housing crisis, city officials are trying to tackle the problem from many angles.They’re boosting outreach services to homeless people, exploring ways to add incentives to spur the construction of more affordable housing and considering a rent control ordinance.
But a largely behind-the-scenes effort to streamline the city’s own development review process, which builders have bemoaned for years as expensive and painfully unpredictable, takes center stage this week.
Nine months after a consultant issued a blistering report that labeled the planning department dysfunctional and suggested dozens of changes, the department will ask the City Council on Tuesday for a nearly $1.3 million budget bump aimed at improving the city’s ability to deal with a logjam of new commercial and housing projects.
Read more at: Santa Rosa looks for new ways to accelerate | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , , , Leave a comment on Researchers find mental health prescription: Nature

Researchers find mental health prescription: Nature

Feeling down? Take a hike.
A new study finds quantifiable evidence that walking in nature could lead to a lower risk of depression.
Specifically, the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walked for 90 minutes in a natural area, as opposed to participants who walked in a high-traffic urban setting, showed decreased activity in a region of the brain associated with a key factor in depression.
“These results suggest that accessible natural areas may be vital for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world,” said co-author Gretchen Daily, the Bing Professor in Environmental Science and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “Our findings can help inform the growing movement worldwide to make cities more livable, and to make nature more accessible to all who live in them.”
More than half of the world’s population lives in urban settings, and that is forecast to rise to 70 percent within a few decades. Just as urbanization and disconnection from nature have grown dramatically, so have mental disorders such as depression.
In fact, city dwellers have a 20 percent higher risk of anxiety disorders and a 40 percent higher risk of mood disorders as compared to people in rural areas. People born and raised in cities are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia.
Is exposure to nature linked to mental health? If so, the researchers asked, what are nature’s impacts on emotion and mood? Can exposure to nature help “buffer” against depression?
Read more at: Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , Leave a comment on Cloverdale dropping Asti from expansion plans

Cloverdale dropping Asti from expansion plans


Cloverdale’s plan to stretch its city boundaries south to take in the historic community of Asti has been dropped, victim to criticism that the move would induce growth and threaten agricultural lands.

In the face of opposition from environmental groups and resistance from the government agency that approves annexations, the city recently agreed to limit its reach and exclude the former Italian Swiss Colony site approximately two miles from city limits.

Critics pointed out the extension of sewer and water to Asti would be expensive and there would be pressure to extend the utilities to adjacent properties and unincorporated county governed “islands” in between.

“We pretty much conceded Asti will not work,” said City Councilman Joe Palla.

via Cloverdale dropping Asti from expansion plans | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , Leave a comment on Urban Growth Boundaries create battles in Cloverdale

Urban Growth Boundaries create battles in Cloverdale

In 2010, the City of Cloverdale was the final city in Sonoma County to pass an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB). Environmental and smart growth advocates, as well as dedicated local residents spent years educating the public and governmental leaders of Cloverdale about the benefits of a UGB to prevent sprawl, encourage “in-fill” and downtown development, and protect the quality of life for local residents into the future. Unfortunately, when it came time to place the measure before voters, the City Council insisted on including three large land “islands,” referred to as Exception Areas in official planning documents, into the Southern planning area of the UGB. These Exception Areas include an Industrial Area, part of the Raines Creek Water District, and the historic Swiss-Italian Colony of Asti. Voters ultimately passed the measure, setting up a battle sure to come in the future.
The time for that fight has come.
The Asti area is four miles from the existing city boundary. At risk is the hillside and vineyard land in between. Recently, the City of Cloverdale applied for an updated Sphere of Influence (SOI) at the Sonoma County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). From the LAFCO website, “A Sphere of Influence is defined as the probable physical boundary and service area of a local agency. Territory must be within a city or district’s sphere of influence to be considered for annexation to that city or district.” LAFCO goes on to say that SOI’s, “Are intended to discourage urban sprawl and the premature conversion of agricultural and open space lands.” This stated philosophy clearly goes against the proposal to add land islands far removed from the existing boundary to the City SOI.
The problems with the proposed Cloverdale Sphere of Influence are many. First, the land between the islands could be developed at the expiration of the UGB in 2030, or sooner if the city or a developer were able to convince voters to amend the UGB. This would be a massive sprawl South of the existing town. Second, allowing islands of the city in the county area takes away the local county residents ability to have equal influence in local government. County residents living in the Asti area/Alexander Valley are unable to vote for the Cloverdale City Council, thus removing their power of democratic choice.
Read more via Urban Growth Boundaries create Battles in Cloverdale.

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Cloverdale growth boundaries in limbo


Cloverdale’s plans for future growth continue to be a topic of debate and somewhat of a puzzle to the government officials who are responsible for setting the city’s ultimate boundaries.

The city’s plan to stretch south to the historic community of Asti, while leaving some unincorporated county “islands” in between, continues to provoke strong, differing opinions.

It gave pause Wednesday to the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission, which is charged with approving the city’s “sphere of influence,” defined as its probable physical boundary and service area.

“I think all of the problems we’re seeing here are the result of the urban growth boundary,” said commissioner Teresa Barrett, referring to the measure approved by Cloverdale voters in 2010.

via Cloverdale growth boundaries in limbo | The Press Democrat.

Posted on Categories Land UseTags Leave a comment on Cloverdale's planned southward growth stirs debate

Cloverdale's planned southward growth stirs debate


Four years after Cloverdale voters approved the eventual extension of city limits southward to Asti, the debate continues as to whether the city overreached.

The Urban Growth Boundary approved by voters in 2010 — the last for all cities in Sonoma — extends to the small community of Asti, about two miles south of Cloverdale, taking in the site of the historic Italian Swiss Colony winery.

The new growth boundary was supported by 57 percent of the voters, who put aside fear of sprawl and loss of agricultural lands if the city spread that far south.

via Cloverdale, Urban Growth Boundary, Asti, Sphere of Influence |