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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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Petaluma housing development moves forward despite concerns

Yousef Baig, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

The 14-year-old Sid Commons, one of the largest proposed residential projects in Petaluma, continued its slow crawl toward approval thanks to a split city council vote on the development’s preliminary environmental report after a lengthy meeting Monday night at City Hall.

Residents near the project site, located on 15 acres at the terminus of Graylawn Avenue between the train tracks and Oak Creek Apartments and just south of the Petaluma River, trumpeted trepidations for a draft environmental impact study they felt came up short on traffic analysis and mitigating the potential harm to the area’s hard-fought flood protections.

The council echoed those concerns to the developer, J. Cyril Johnson Investment Corp., and city staff. On a 3-2 vote, with council members Gabe Kearney and Chris Albertson absent, the council allowed preparation of the final environmental impact report to begin contingent on an updated traffic study of Payran Street, which has steadily become a main thoroughfare, connecting Petaluma Boulevard North and East Washington Street.

“People use it to avoid East Washington and Petaluma Boulevard and they use it to get to the north end of the boulevard,” said councilwoman Kathy Miller. “There’s quite a bit of traffic there … you sit for a long time.”

Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/8354231-181/petaluma-housing-development-moves-forward

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Sonoma County welcomes granny units and thousands of other new homes after devastating fires

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

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Rough paths forward for projects promising 1,200 housing units on Sonoma County land

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Housing units constructed in Santa Rosa in the last 5 years: 1,258

Housing units possible on 3 county-owned sites in Santa Rosa: nearly 1,200

Chanate Road, former county hospital complex
Size: 82 acres
Total units proposed: 867 (162 affordable)
Sales price: $6 million — $11.5 million

2150 W. College Ave., former Water Agency headquarters
Size: 7.5 acres
Total units proposed: 144 (29 affordable)*

*New development proposals being solicited

Roseland Village shopping center, Dollar Tree site
Size: 7 acres
Total units proposed: 175 (75 affordable)

Sonoma County wants to transform three large taxpayer-owned properties in Santa Rosa into new housing, with plans calling for as many as 1,200 units, a surge of supply in even greater demand after the destruction wrought by last year’s wildfires.

But with each of the county properties, which are either vacant or in need of improvements, the goals of government and developers have proven elusive, slowing the creation of new housing at a critical time, after nearly 5,300 homes were lost in the county in October’s fires.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8213280-181/rough-paths-forward-for-projects

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After fires, a push to fix housing crisis

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

As it emerged from the Great Recession and a moribund housing market, Sonoma County in 2011 needed seven years to build nearly 5,000 new homes.

The fires of October wiped a greater number of houses and apartments off the map here in a single day.

The unprecedented disaster deepened an existing housing crisis and fueled calls by local officials to dramatically accelerate the pace of new home construction — perhaps to a level never before seen in the county, even in the decadeslong building boom following World War II.

By two recent estimates, a yawning gap exists between the housing stock the county had before the fires — about 208,000 homes, apartments and other units — and what is needed to keep the economy growing and to comfortably house a wide range of workers and families.

It could be as high as 30,000 units — equivalent to what exists in Rohnert Park, Windsor and Sebastopol — according to county supervisors, who set that figure as an ambitious five-year building target that would include both the burn areas and surrounding communities.

“We are eroding the character of our county by not allowing people who work here to live here and be a part of the community,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman James Gore. The county, he said, came up with its estimate of 30,000 homes “not as a hopeful aspiration, but as an analysis of how much we’re short from a healthy housing market.”

But some leaders in the local building and real estate industry say there is no conceivable way for the county to build 6,000 houses and apartments a year, equivalent to completing 16 homes a day. The obstacles, builders say, include insufficient levels of labor, materials and projects ready to go.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8011910-181/fires-fuel-a-daunting-push

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Petaluma apartment project passes key hurdle

A proposal for a 184-unit rental apartment complex in the heart of Petaluma won the approval of the Petaluma Planning Commission Tuesday, a critical first step in moving the long-stalled project forward as the city faces a grim housing crisis.

After three years of seeking community input and altering plans based on feedback from citizens and city officials, representatives from Stockton-based A.G. Spanos Companies now face a yet-to-be-scheduled city council hearing for additional approvals, including granting access across a city-owned parcel for a road that’s part of the North River Apartment project at the intersection of Petaluma Boulevard North and Oak Street.

Read more at http://www.petaluma360.com/news/7912963-181/petaluma-apartment-project-passes-key

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Sonoma County’s new crossroads for legal weed

Joe Mathews, THE SACRAMENTO BEE

Adjust your California maps: The dot marking Santa Rosa needs to be bigger.

Dramatic changes in housing, demography, and criminal justice are altering the Golden State’s geography, and no place in California stands to benefit more than Santa Rosa.

The Sonoma County seat seems poised to become the most successful example of a certain type of urbanism – the rapidly growing midsize city that serves as a crossroads between major regions. The city’s current motto – “Out There. In the Middle of Everything” – encapsulates the new and paradoxical centrality of edge cities, from Fairfield and Santa Clarita to Riverside and Escondido.

“We’re on the move and we’re interested in growing,” says Santa Rosa City Council member Julie Combs of her town.

The fifth largest city in the Bay Area, Santa Rosa, population 175,000, plays many roles. It’s the northern spillover area for people and businesses seeking refuge from the higher costs of communities closer-in. The city now boasts 88,000 jobs, its highest employment level ever.

And by dint of geography and strategy, the city is emerging as California’s weed crossroads – or, in more official language, the “farm-to-market” center for medical and recreational marijuana, connecting the North State’s cannabis growers with the retailers and consumers of the Bay Area and points south.

While other California cities have decided to limit the marijuana industry, Santa Rosa has rapidly issued permits for cannabis operations, creating a run on warehouse space. What the city wants is higher-wage professional jobs – in sales, finance, distribution or lab testing – that the newly legal industry will require.

Read more at: Sonoma County’s new crossroads for legal weed | The Sacramento Bee

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County backs down on sale of Santa Rosa meadow to developer

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The meadow for 15 years has been marked by a prominent sign that declares it part of the Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve supposedly managed by a partnership of the county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the county Water Agency, the county itself and the city.

Bowing to intense political pressure from a group of Santa Rosa neighborhood activists, the chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has agreed to guarantee that a treasured undeveloped meadow near their homes won’t be paved over after the county sells the sprawling site of its old hospital complex to a housing developer.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane said in an interview this week that she has not yet determined the best way to officially ensure the meadow and some surrounding land remain as open space. The options under consideration include removing the roughly 10-acre parcel from the sale entirely or striking a deal with the developer, Bill Gallaher, to maintain the land as a preserve.

The about-face represents a significant concession from Zane, who previously insisted that neighbors’ concerns about selling the de facto open space would have to be addressed by the city when Gallaher’s project passed through its planning process.

Neighbors, in response, mounted an aggressive campaign, consulting an attorney, filing extensive requests for years-worth of public records on the parcel in question and placing signs — knowingly or not — in Zane’s McDonald Avenue neighborhood and along her route to work.

“It was just time to say, you know, if we have to lose some money on this in terms of renegotiating the proposal, then that’s what we should do,” Zane said. She said the decision came Tuesday after county officials and supervisors met behind closed doors to discuss the sale, though that wasn’t the only factor.

Read more at: Sonoma County signals intent to protect Santa Rosa meadow up for sale in development deal | The Press Democrat

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Sonoma County single home construction in 2016 most since 2007 

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Greatest demand is for townhomes and other affordable housing.

After a long dry spell, Sonoma County builders last year created the largest number of new single-family homes in almost a decade.

In 2016, county and city governments issued permits for 581 single-family homes, according to the California Homebuilding Foundation in Sacramento. The last time more homes were built here was in 2007, when 904 permits were issued. Last year’s permit total was 236.

The construction industry remains a major employer and a significant contributor to the county economy in that way. In recent years, business and civic leaders have also looked to builders to help address a housing shortage they say is so dire it threatens to become a drag on the economic health of the region.

From that perspective, builders and others said the current level of construction activity remains well below average. And there are few reasons to expect it to increase dramatically anytime soon.

“There’s still headwinds out there for private builders and developers,” said Keith Christopherson, a longtime builder and a partner in Synergy Communities by Christopherson of Santa Rosa. For many, capital and suitable land remain in relative short supply, and most are wary of the possibility they could face another economic downturn with unsold units.

Read more at: Report: Sonoma County home construction in 2016 best since 2007 | The Press Democrat

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Sonoma County considers building on its own Santa Rosa property in bid to ease housing shortage 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Four publicly owned properties around Santa Rosa could be dramatically reshaped over the next several years by a push to create large numbers of new homes, apartments and condominiums and chip away at the region’s housing crisis.

Sonoma County officials could soon move forward on efforts to build housing at the site of the county Water Agency’s former headquarters on West College Avenue, where early estimates indicate as many as 200 units could be constructed.

Any progress there this year would come in addition to plans already underway to sell 82 acres of county-owned land off Chanate Road to a housing developer, as well as a separate project to build units on part of a Sebastopol Road site owned by the county’s Community Development Commission.

Further down the line, county officials envision building housing on part of their northern Santa Rosa administrative complex, which is considered too old and spread out to meet current demands. They also may someday develop units at the site of the old Los Guilicos juvenile hall off Highway 12 in Sonoma Valley, but officials have yet to seriously move forward with any plans there.

Aside from Los Guilicos, the other four Santa Rosa sites could anchor some 1,375 units by 2022.

While that amount would mark a major effort by the county to expand the tight local housing market, it would not come close to matching the pace from the boom years before the most recent recession, when builders added nearly 18,000 houses, apartments and condominiums in the county from 2000 to 2008. The county wants to get as many housing projects as possible underway this year.

Read more at: Sonoma County eyes its own Santa Rosa property in bid to ease housing shortage | The Press Democrat