By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A surge in the number of apartments proposed in Windsor is giving pause to some Town Council members and prompting soul searching on whether the high-density projects will alter the town character.
About 1,150 apartment dwellings are currently proposed, prompting questions whether Windsor can handle that many built in a short period and whether the influx of renters will create a different sense of community than comes with home ownership.
“People are worried there are going to be thousands of apartments in Windsor. And they’re worried about changing the character of Windsor,” Mayor Debora Fudge said in reference to Windsor Mill, a project of up to 400 apartments that she supports near the future downtown train station.
“I don’t want the character of Windsor to change,” she said. “People may be lining up. It doesn’t mean we’ll approve them all,” she said of the number of apartments developers are proposing in Windsor.
Councilman Sam Salmon said the banks are having too much influence in the type of projects coming forward, with multiple-unit rental housing getting higher lending priority than single-family home construction.
“We’re approaching 1,200 units in the next three, four, or five years,” he said of three large projects being put forward. “And I think we’re only talking about it because it’s the only thing the banks will finance.”
“This is all again about growth,” he said. “If there’s ever been an issue in Windsor that’s been right to the heart, it’s been about growth and kids — children,” he said.
Sharp differences of opinion emerged in the Town Council’s discussion last week over the Windsor Mill project, which was approved seven years ago for 201 units, roughly half the number developers now seek.
The council voted 3-2 to grant Windsor Mill “priority development” status that allows a higher density in the train station area and a faster track to approval.
The majority composed of Fudge, council members Robin Goble and Cheryl Scholar were willing to give it priority status. Salmon and Councilman Steve Allen were concerned the density is too high and wanted it to go through a more competitive “merit” presentation process in which developers compete for building allocations.
“It’s a little tough for me to sit here tonight and say ‘Yes, you go ahead’ without hearing how the council is going to weigh in on the rest of those units that were brought before us,” said Allen.
Some residents have voiced objections over traffic from the Mill project in addition to other concerns.
When it comes to renters versus people who own their homes, “the sense of connection and commitment to the community can be very different,” said Sally Pooler.
Others have fretted about a plethora of apartments built so quickly and Windsor further losing its rural character.
The vast majority of housing in Windsor — 79 percent – is in the form of single-family homes, according to Planning Director Jim Bergman. The remainder are duplexes, triplexes and apartments, although the latter are relatively rare.
Besides the $80 million Windsor Mill proposal, other apartment projects moving forward include the $80-to-$100 million Bell Village with an Oliver’s supermarket and 387 rental apartments on the old Windsorland mobile home site. That project has received approval and is awaiting minor design review from the planning commission.
More recently, developers proposed “Hembree Village,” up to 325 apartments on 17 acres just north of Walmart, which will be subject to the merit process later this year.
“What town are we making here?” asked resident Paul Wade. “Windsor has always been a progressive community. It’s always been a community that wants to cater to families and to small growth. And yet here, this is not anything like that,” he said of Hembree Village.
Another smaller project also is being planned — the 36-unit Esposti Park apartment project at 6087 Old Redwood Highway.
The council majority views the half-mile area around the transit station as a special situation because town policies allow higher densities downtown as part of a transit-oriented lifestyle that promotes walkability and less reliance on motor vehicles.
Peter Stanley, the Windsor Mill project manager and consultant, said the project requires approvals from the Town Council and Planning Commission and must meet environmental and traffic guidelines.
“Can the market absorb it? Right now the market is sizzling hot for rentals,” he said of the demand for apartment units.
Fudge noted another reason to give Windsor Mill a high priority:
“The downtown needs people. It’s hanging now by a little bit of a thread,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.