WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa council to review controversial Elnoka project


An environmental report for a controversial affordable housing project next to the Oakmont retirement community heads to the Santa Rosa city council this week.

Wally Schilpp is one of the many Oakmont residents who oppose a proposal to build a five-story affordable-housing complex, market, dog park and a kids play area on thirteen acres of undeveloped property next to the spawling senior citizens community in east Santa Rosa. (Crista Jeremiason / PD)

Oakmont is appealing the planning commission’s January approval of the environmental impact report prepared for the 209-unit Elnoka Village project, 30 percent of which will be affordable units.

The four-volume study, which has cost developer Bill Gallagher more than $300,000, concludes that the project’s impacts are not significant, and the city planning department concurs.

But neighbors couldn’t disagree more, citing a range of traffic, visual and land-use objections to the 14-acre project near the city’s eastern edge.

They say the four-story building and 5,000-square-feet of retail space beside Highway 12 are inconsistent with the semi-rural character of the area, located near Annadel State Park. Others worry about the increase of traffic on the busy two-lane highway. Still others question the tortured planning process that resulted in the zoning on the property being changed from one designated for a senior care center to one with higher density suitable for affordable housing.

The developer, Oakmont Senior Living, and affordable housing advocates suggest Oakmont’s opposition is a thinly veiled effort to keep poor people out of their idyllic slice of the Valley of the Moon.

Oakmont officials deny this. They say they think the project should be restricted to seniors because that’s what the land-use designation for the property was for years under prior ownership.

But at this stage of the approvals process, Oakmont’s objections focus on a narrow set of issues related to findings in the environmental impact report.

One of those is that a small portion — 102 square feet — of the project spills over from the 9-acre parcel zoned medium-density onto one zoned for very low density housing. Oakmont argues this is inconsistent with the city’s General Plan, but the report concluded the impact would not be significant.

Another objection is with the report’s finding that the project is consistent with the portion of the General Plan that requires affordable housing projects to “be designed in context with existing, surrounding neighborhoods.”

City staff said such a determination would need to be made by the Design Review Board when a project is ultimately submitted.

A great deal of work went into the project to ensure it fits in with the surrounding community, said William Mabry, a partner in the Oakmont Senior Living, in a letter to the city.

These include increasing the distance the building is set back from the Oakmont property line, preservation of oak trees to screen it from view, and placement of much of the parking underground to reduce the footprint.

The public hearing is scheduled to being at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The appeal was originally scheduled to be heard on March 8, but was postponed after the city learned the developer had failed to post signs about the meeting on the property as required.

8 Responses to “Santa Rosa council to review controversial Elnoka project”

  1. Sandy says:

    A five story high rise apartment building on Hwy 12? Can anyone else spell ghetto? High rise public housing has been extinct as an option for decades. It failed everywhere it was tried. This is not affordable housing…it is warehousing. And shouldn’t low income housing be close to transportation, schools, shops? This makes no sense. Call the city council and let them know it.

  2. Kay Tokerud says:

    After following local politics for years, I know how the rezoning occurred. Following the 2002 General Plan update, Santa Rosa was sued by David Grabill of the Housing Advocacy Group, HAG. He alleged that Santa Rosa had not designated enough lands for medium -density housing and was in violation of State law. He also works for Burbank Housing the primary builder of affordable housing on medium density zoned land in Santa Rosa, and recipient of city grants.

    Grabill won the suit so the city re-designated multiple properties around the city to that designation with little or no public review or knowledge. The aftermath of these rezonings is particularly disturbing. Areas along Santa Rosa Avenue that have always been zoned commercial and industrial were rezoned to medium density housing making all of the existing uses there non-conforming to their zoning. Most of those owners first found out about the rezoning 4 years later when I handed out color maps of the General Plan in 2006 at one of the first meetings of the Santa Rosa Area Business Association. Santa Rosa declared these areas blighted in 2006 and they are now subject to condemnation under eminent domain.

    Santa Rosa ‘sacrificed’ certain property owners’ interests for their own benefit to settle a lawsuit against them. Instead of making the considerable effort to rezone properties judiciously and with owners’ consent, they chose to instead do it covertly without the knowledge or participation of landowners. The Elnoka property was included in the lawsuit settlement. The property is now owned by a wealthy banker who will make money on the project because of the rezoning. The Oakmont residents are being thrown under the bus as the city reneges on its previous commitment to have this property developed as a senior care facility.

    Santa Rosa is still a good old boy community and this is but one example of that. It makes no sense to put this high-density, mixed-use project way out there, it’s in direct conflict with the idea of having these types of developments near public transportation. Although the mixed-use model has largely failed, city officials refuse to recognize this and have rezoned large portions of the city for mixed-use development anyway.

    That’s why I call Santa Rosa the ‘City of Bad Planning”. Here they go again.

  3. Jim M says:

    I agree this project should not be considered part of transit oriented development, or a new urbanist or progressive agenda. It is far to far away from the center of town to fit with these models. It certainly has nothing to do with any UN agenda item. Judge this one on it’s own merits, let’s not try to force it into any larger political divide.

  4. Billy C says:

    This project does not seem to jive with the Transit oriented development model being supported by the progressives. Whats up with that ?

  5. FedUp says:

    “The developer, Oakmont Senior Living, and affordable housing advocates suggest Oakmont’s opposition is a thinly veiled effort to keep poor people out of their idyllic slice of the Valley of the Moon.”

    Amusing. Liberals, past masters of abusing the legal system to further their anti-corporate, no growth agenda, squeal like stuck hogs when the shoe is on the other foot.


    Last year, Rosa Koire of SRNC coined the term ‘Vertical Sprawl’ for the new urbanist high density development being touted as the solution for a non-existent problem of too many homes in the suburbs. Unless the problem is that not enough tax revenue is being siphoned off to crony-developers who expect to get big subsidies from Redevelopment Agencies. Locals like Laura Hall and Lois Fisher have made a business out of redesigning city centers and selling form-based zoning codes (a one-size-fits-all model) to brainwashed city officials all over the nation.

    Now that this top heavy style of bloated government/public partnerships is failing some ‘environmental crony groups’ like LIEE, Sonoma County Conservation Action, and Greenbelt Alliance are whining that there might not be enough money for them in the future. They’re counting on your ignorance and compliance to swallow the empty so-called green rhetoric that they’re pushing.

    High density urban development like the 4 story Moore Building that sits nearly empty on Healdsburg Avenue and 10th in downtown Santa Rosa. The family that built that with their savings lost everything.

    Crony developers and the groups they fund, like Sonoma County Conservation Action, along with the fake greens, the train proponents, are in it to influence politicians, get contracts, get subsidies, and manipulate regulations.
    Who gets hurt?
    Elnoka is a perfect example. The high density housing project to be built against the wishes of the neighboring low density senior development. Where is it? Out in the boonies. No need for high density there, but the developer wants it and has the rhetoric to get the green power trippers on his side.

    Green: the color of money.
    It’s for your own good—it’s Communitarianism and UN AGENDA 21.

    Read more at Santa Rosa Neighborhood Coalition dot com

  7. bear says:

    Where is Trione when we need him?

  8. Chris says:

    So this property is currently in the general plan as a medium density all age housing site with housing priced at a level where people can afford to live there. Sounds like a great project!

    Just because a piece of land used to be zoned for age discriminated housing, doesn’t mean that it is now. The project should go forward and permit all residents of this city to live there.