Affordable housing, green building issues left to City Council
Mike McCoy, Santa Rosa Press Democrat
A plan to promote high-density development in Santa Rosa's downtown rail corridor was approved Wednesday by the Planning Commission.
After three lengthy and sometimes testy hearings, the commission completed its review of the inch-thick document that envisions multistory buildings and a greater reliance on mass transit in the city's core.
The plan for a 650-acre area that spans Highway 101 from Railroad Square to downtown heads next to the City Council for a hearing in October.
Wednesday's 4½-hour meeting featured hard-nosed bargaining among commissioners focused primarily on two issues: Whether to make green building practices mandatory within the planning area and how to ensure some level of low- to moderate-income housing.
While commissioners split on how far they were willing to go on either subject, they agreed to send the City Council a memo endorsing the importance of environmentally friendly building and finding ways to ensure the area includes housing for various income levels.
To reach consensus on the overall plan, the commissioners agreed to leave it up to the council to determine whether and how to attain those goals.
It sent the plan to the council on a 5-0 vote with two members abstaining.
The Downtown Station Area Specific Plan calls for more intense development within a half-mile radius of the train station in Railroad Square, which would be a hub for a proposed commuter rail line running from Cloverdale to Larkspur.
The plan is intended to provide a mix of housing and commercial development to help ensure the success of the rail line planned by Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit.
Voters rejected a sales tax to help pay for the rail system last year. Another tax may be put on the ballot in 2008.
But city officials say the plan is workable even if voters in Sonoma and Marin counties continue to reject taxes needed to support the rail system.
"If there is a train it serves its purpose and will work well," said Wayne Goldberg, the city's advanced planning director.
"But if the train does not go forward it is still a viable plan for bus service, bicycle routes and pedestrian uses," Goldberg said, noting the dense development "offers an alternative to auto-oriented development."
The plan itself envisions 3,249 residential units, 6,000 residents and 500,000 square feet of retail and office space above and beyond what the city general plan allows to be developed in the area by 2020.
Commissioners met well into the night last month, debating parking standards, park sites and the development potential of Imwalle Gardens, a 27-acre farm that has operated on the western edge of the planning area since 1877.
Wednesday it had more difficult issues to tackle, including affordable housing, green building practices and bike lanes.
Goldberg said if the plan is approved by the council, it will go into effect immediately.
"The new rules will apply" he said, and landowners with plans to develop will have to adjust their plans to comply with any land use and zoning changes.
"Their projects will have to be consistent with the new plan," he said.