By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A four-story affordable housing project near Oakmont ran into a buzz saw of criticism Tuesday as neighbors called it a “monstrosity” and council members called a key report flawed.
It was the latest setback for the controversial 209-unit Elnoka Village project on the north edge of Oakmont, which developer Bill Gallaher has been trying to get approved for six years.
Oakmont resident Jean Whipple, 86, summed up the views of many area residents when she said the big building on Highway 12 in east Santa Rosa would mar views of the scenic Valley of the Moon.
“I cannot see the number of people this whole development is trying to tuck into this little area,” Whipple said. “It just won’t work.”
After a more than four-hour public hearing, the council voted 6-0 to uphold the Oakmont Village Association’s appeal of the four-volume environmental study of the project and to send the project back for further study on the visual, traffic and land-use impacts.
The 5,000-resident strong Oakmont neighborhood appealed the planning commission’s January approval of the environmental impact report prepared for the project, 30 percent of which will be affordable units.
Land-use consultant Jeanne Kapolchok, who represented Oakmont in its appeal, said the environmental impact report for the project was “faulty and incomplete.”
She said it made no sense for the report to on the one hand identify the project as having a “massive appearance that is not consistent with surrounding development” but also find the project consistent with a requirements for it to “be designed in context with existing, surrounding neighborhoods.”
“We don’t understand that,” Kapolchok said.
The overwhelming majority of those who spoke at the council meeting objected to either the size of the project, the traffic it would generate or the views of Annadel State Park they feared it would destroy.
Several took particular issue with environmental reports’ conclusion that the project was consistent with the surrounding neighborhood.
“Looking out my window at a four-story building, don’t tell me it doesn’t change the neighborhood,” said John Felton, whose property backs up to the project’s proposed parking lot. “A four-story building just doesn’t belong there.”
The study’s conclusion that there would be no impact on traffic from the project was similarly ridiculed.
“I’ve seen accident after accident,” said Richard Cohen, who said he lives near the intersection of Highway 12 and Melita Road, a quarter mile from the project. “It’s crazy.”
The report found that the collision rate at the intersection of Melita Road and Highway 12 is a third of the state average, but Councilman Gary Wysocky was skeptical. “I don’t think that road is as safe as the numbers portend it to be,” Wysocky said.
He said the fact that some elements of the project spilled over into surrounding parcels with lower zoning densities convinced him the developer was trying to cram too many units into the 9-acre parcel.
“It’s like me trying to get into my pre-election pants, I don’t fit any more,” Wysocky said.
Bill Mabry, a partner in the Oakmont Senior Living, argued that the company had put a great deal of work into ensuring the project fit in with the surrounding community. Efforts included increasing the setback from the Oakmont property line, preservation of oak trees to screen the project from view, and placing of much of the parking underground to reduce the footprint.
Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre was one of the few supporters of the developer, noting it was a local company whose Varenna at Fountaingrove project had turned out beautifully.
She said she was disappointed so few people supported the goal of providing affordable housing, and urged seniors to think about a child who is looking for a job and needing an affordable place to live in the area.
“I think I heard only three people speak about the need for affordable housing,” she said.
One of those was housing advocate David Grabill, who noted that the city designated the 9-acre site for a higher density project to settle a lawsuit his group threatened to file in 2002 over the city’s failure to build sufficient affordable housing.
“We want that settlement carried out,” Grabill said.
He called Elnoka Village an “amazing project” whose 42 units of affordable housing would go a long way toward helping the city meet its affordable housing goals, which he said the city is “way behind” in meeting.
“We need to get people back to work in the this city, as some of you have said, and we need to provide affordable housing, as others of you have said.”