WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa council rejects 73-unit development over affordable housing concerns


City leaders rejected a developer’s plan to build 73 homes in the largest subdivision under construction in Santa Rosa, calling the proposal a “bait-and-switch” that would leave the city without the low-income housing it was promised.

money houseMeritage Homes of California wants to start building the second phase of 138 single-family homes approved for a former Christopherson Homes subdivision off Aston Avenue in the southeast section of the city.

But because of the way the original subdivision was broken up in foreclosure, the current developer doesn’t own the piece of property that was set aside for the 24 units of affordable housing associated with the project.

Instead, Meritage is proposing to restrict some of its smaller 1,400-square-foot homes for moderate-income families. A family of four in Santa Rosa is considered moderate income if it makes 120 percent of the median income, or $99,100.

But that didn’t sound very affordable to Councilman Jake Ours.

“In this particular case, I think there’s a bit of a bait-and-switch going on,” Ours said. “We’re not getting affordable units, and until we can get that, I don’t’ think I’ll vote for this.”

City staff had come up with a compromise they hoped would make the best of a bad situation.

The city approved Christopherson Homes’ 162-unit Daunhauer Ranch subdivision at 1600 Aston Avenue in 2003. Because the project was more than 15 acres, the city required 24 of the units be built on-site as a low-income apartment complex. A separate entity, Alderbrook Properties, was established to develop the affordable units.

But when home values plummeted, Christopherson Homes, once the largest homebuilder in the county, defaulted on the main portion of the property. In 2010, Meritage Homes bought the property where single-family homes were planned from Wells Fargo Bank, but it did not purchase the parcel approved for the affordable units.

A previous council in 2012 signed off on a deal allowing nine of the 65 housing units in phase one to be set aside for moderate-income families. But this time the deal faced greater scrutiny.

“I feel like I’m getting backed into a corner and I don’t like it,” Councilman Gary Wysocky said.

Council members expressed a preference for the original plan. But City Attorney Caroline Fowler pointed out that city staff was trying to find a way to keep a project that creates jobs and builds affordable homes moving forward.

She also stressed that Meritage Homes didn’t own the property where the affordable units were planned.

“We can’t force them to build low-income housing on a site that they don’t own,” Fowler said.

Keith Christopherson, former owner of the now-defunct Christopherson Homes, said he still hopes to build the affordable units, but needs some help. He said he hopes Meritage will help him finance the deal.

But Wysocky said he doubted the separate apartment parcel would be developed anytime soon.

“That’s going to stand alone for a long time, I fear,” he said.

Housing advocate David Grabill noted that the need for moderate-income housing has lessened since housing prices have tumbled, stressing that low-income housing is where the real unmet need is.

“You’ve got to hold their feet to the fire,” Grabill said.

Ultimately, the council instructed Meritage to sit down with Christopherson to see if the two groups could find a way to get the low-income units built. They requested an update in 30 days.

“I think we could easily pull it together in a month,” Christopherson said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.

7 Responses to “Santa Rosa council rejects 73-unit development over affordable housing concerns”

  1. James Bennett says:

    Lots of folks haven’t connected the dots in terms of what the physical/planning manifestation of UN Agenda 21 and our One Bay Area Plan represents to property rights.

    Let’s just say that most everything outside the Priority Development Area (PDA) will be “rejected”.

    If you finally want to build a single family home on YOUR property after paying taxes on it, paying architects, drilling your well etc. in anticipation of fulfilling your American Dream; a home in the country, well you won’t be able to.

    It will be “rejected” because it’s not in the PDA.

    Most everything will be Smart Growth/Affordable Housing.

    In 4% of the Bay Area’s real estate that some treasonous public official has arbitrarily deamed within the “Urban Growth Boundry”.

    Our ICLEI adherent Council only wants to approve Smart Growth gulags.

    ‘Cause that’s what their masters told ‘em.

  2. Unsure says:

    Let me get this straight. Keith Christopherson and Christopherson Homes makes a deal with the SR City Council to build a homes including some affordable housing. Christopherson loses all tghe property to the bank EXCEPT for the piece he was going to build the affordable homes on. Meritage Homes, which has absolutely no connection with the Christopherson deal buys all the property from the bank, EXCEPT the piece that was going to have the affordable homes, which is still owned by Christopherson. The City Council expects Meritage to build the affordable homes promised by Christopherson on the land that wasn’t planned for those homes and wasn’t in any deal they made with the City Council. How the heck is that a “bait and switch?” The Council expects a third party to pay for something they were never involved with in the first place? This makes eminent domain seem intelligent and fair!

  3. Brown Act Jack says:

    It is most interesting to visualize why the City Attorney was entering into the discussion about reasons rather than just rendering legal opinions.

    But, that may be what they do now!

  4. Kirstin says:

    ” ‘We can’t force them to build low-income housing on a site that they don’t own,’ Fowler said.”

    Of course, the city attorney is right. But the city council should not need to be told something so obvious. Have we elected people to the council who don’t understand the rightful limits of their office and city government in general?

  5. James Bennett says:

    SnarkY, not Snarkt

  6. James Bennett says:

    Snarkt: Amen.

    The underlying dynamic of this deal probably has to do with meeting Smart growth/Affordable Housing (same thing) as directed by ICLEI for grant money eligability.

    Instead of the Free Market dictating development, we have globalists telling us how it’s ‘gonna be.

    You won’t like the globalist’s plans…

  7. Snarky says:

    IF the developer has properly and lawfully obtained the permits and the financing and is obeying all the usual regulations regarding disposal of toxic materials, etc….


    The idea that government now dictates such things demonstrates how arrogant they have become.

    And as always, I ask:
    What expertise do the government “planners” have in the way of academic training and employment experience IN THE FIELD for which they “plan.” The press demo refuses to address that weakness in local government.