By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
An environmental report for a controversial affordable housing project next to the Oakmont retirement community heads to the Santa Rosa city council this week.
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.