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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

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Developer seeks to add units to downtown west Santa Rosa apartment project

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The developer of a large apartment complex in downtown Santa Rosa is hoping for permission to pack even more apartments into the project.

Rick Derringer won approval in May to build 185 apartments on a large industrial property along the railroad tracks in the city’s West End neighborhood.

His four-story DeTurk Winery Village project was already one of the largest apartment projects planned for the downtown area. Now he’s hoping to add more units into the project, boosting the number of proposed apartments by 30 percent to 240.

Derringer is holding a neighborhood meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the DeTurk Round Barn to discuss his proposed changes.

“The city wants density and affordability, and this project provides more density and affordability,” Derringer said.

The project has undergone several iterations in the more than a decade since Derringer acquired the property. The effort has been complicated — and controversial — in part because it involves reuse of a historic building.

Read more at: Developer seeks to add units to downtown Santa Rosa apartment project | The Press Democrat

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Petaluma crafts granny unit policy

Hannah Beausang, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER

As Petaluma’s housing market continues to constrict, the city council Monday unanimously voted to relax regulations on the construction of additional living spaces on residents’ land and in their homes.

The updates to the city’s zoning ordinance, driven by three state laws signed into effect last year, are intended to make it easier for residents to build accessory dwelling structures, or “granny units” that are attached to their residences or built separately on their properties. It also creates a new classification and associated rules for converting an existing bedroom in a single family home into independent living quarters, or a so-called “junior second unit.

”Accessory dwelling units are regarded as an economical way of providing housing for a wide range of family members, care providers or local employees inside the footprint of existing neighborhoods.“

Businesses and people in Petaluma are looking for ways to create more affordable housing and this is a brilliant strategy,” said Rachel Ginis, the founding director of Novato-based Lily Pad Homes, a nonprofit that supports education about the development of second units and sponsored the junior second unit legislation.

Read more at: Petaluma crafts granny unit policy | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com

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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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Railroad Square development draws support, questions 

Kevin McCallum, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Affordable housing and parking emerged Monday as two key issues that the developer of an $85 million Railroad Square project will need to carefully navigate to win approval from city officials and the transportation agency that owns the Santa Rosa property.

The first public hearing on the plan by Santa Clara-based ROEM Corp. to build 268 units of housing, retail shops and a public plaza on 5.4 vacant acres west of the city’s downtown rail station featured plenty of praise for the proposal.

“What you’ve put before us is what this community has been looking for for a long time,” Santa Rosa City Councilman Chris Coursey said.

But it was also clear debates that bogged down previous efforts to develop the site are already re-emerging, potentially threatening swift approval of the project.

How many units of affordable housing would be included in the project? How affordable would those units be? How much would the city or county be asked to subsidize construction of those units? All were questions raised but left unanswered during Monday morning’s well-attended presentation at City Hall.

Read more at: Railroad Square development draws support, questions | The Press Democrat

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SMART line revives plan for transit village hub in Santa Rosa

For more than a decade, the leaders of Sonoma County’s largest city have dreamed of transforming a cluster of vacant properties along the railroad tracks in downtown Santa Rosa into a vital new village filled with people opting for lower-impact urban living.

Time after time, proposals to develop the western side of Railroad Square have fallen apart, victims of political infighting, neighborhood opposition and economic slumps.

But the impending arrival of a $428 million regional rail system is breathing new life into efforts to create high-density housing around the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit platform in Railroad Square.

SMART has narrowed its search for a development partner as it prepares to start trains rolling through Santa Rosa later this year. Next month, SMART and the finalist in its quest for a development partner will present a detailed plan to build out the property.

As early as next summer, construction could get underway on a complex of market-rate and affordable apartments, retail spaces focused on food and wine, and a public plaza on a 5.4-acre site just west of the Railroad Square station.

Read more at: SMART line revives plan for transit village hub in Santa Rosa