WatchSonoma Watch

Developers win exemption from Santa Rosa greenery requirement


A divided City Council waived a key design requirement Tuesday for a subdivision in southwest Santa Rosa whose developers argued that affordable housing trumped design guidelines requiring strips of grass between the road and sidewalk.

The decision split the council 4-3 between those who felt affordable housing was badly needed in the area and those who felt the residents of Roseland deserved to have well-designed neighborhood streets.

“I don’t want to have a planter strip get in the way of creating some more affordable housing for our community,” Councilman Ernesto Olivares said.

Santa Rosa City Hall (PD FILE)

Santa Rosa City Hall (PD FILE)

Other council members agreed with city staff that the developers were trying to put too many homes on the property, resulting in tiny front and backyards and the elimination of planter strips that some felt are an important feature of walkable communities.

“They’ve crammed too much into too small of a space,” Vice Mayor Robin Swinth said.

The developers Michael Gasparini and Allan Henderson want to build a 167-unit residential project on about 12 acres of bare land just outside city limits between Dutton Avenue and the railroad tracks.

The men said they worked for years to clean up the property, which they described as a toxic junkyard with numerous abandoned cars and 60,000 old tires disposed of on the property. They said they removed 7,000 tons of “lightly contaminated” soil.

The property is outside the city limits, but they want to hook up to the city water supply. Before they can do so, the city must confirm that all the other utilities in the project conform with city standards. That’s because it is expected that someday the property will become part of Santa Rosa, and it should conform to its standards, such as street and sidewalk width.

Planter strips are required by the city because they create green space, a place for trees to grow and absorb runoff.

“In Santa Rosa, planter strips are a key part of high quality development,” planner Erin Morris said.

But when the developers switched the project from one with private streets to one with public streets, they needed to find a way to fit the wider streets into the plan, and did so by removing the planter strips. Effort to create “bulb outs” of greenery on street corners did not work because they made the streets narrower than the 20-foot standard, Morris said.

“It’s difficult to meet every little nuance of county and city design requirements,” Gasparini said.

Much of the debate focused on whether the project was creating enough affordable housing to justify cutting the developers a break on the planter strip design feature.

Affordable housing advocates argued that the need in the city was so great that the project shouldn’t be held up over a narrow strip of grass.

Housing advocate David Grabill called the project’s affordable housing component “an incredible gift” given that was being constructed with no public subsidies. There are 32 low-income housing units, which he valued at $10 million.

Mayor Scott Bartley argued that when he was on the Planning Commission, they came up with the design guidelines for small-lot subdivisions and found that the streetscape made all the difference between communities that worked and those that didn’t.

“To my mind, they are just shoehorning too much into this site,” Bartley said.

Olivares, Erin Carlstrom, Gary Wysocky and Jake Ours voted in favor, while Mayor Scott Bartley, Swinth and Julie Combs voted against.

The project now goes back to the county for final design approval.

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

5 Responses to “Developers win exemption from Santa Rosa greenery requirement”

  1. Steveguy says:

    The response to me by some anonymous person here says quite a bit about him/her.

    Future slum ? Only investors ? Where do you get that information ? Maybe you see it as a Hispanic neighborhood and your prejudice is showing through.

    There are many small subdivisions all over Santa Rosa that do just fine without giving up 6 feet of frontage.

    Why don’t you give an example of that in Santa Rosa, I gave many.

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  2. @Steveguy says:

    No one elected or appointed you. It sounds like you’d like those future slums in the process of being built just fine. But if you’re in the market for a barren crowded unit, you better hurry because the city really didn’t approve “affordable” anything for the residents of the neighborhood. There are no restrictions…so guess what? They mostly be bought up and turned into rentals and/or flipped for profit. A few people will make some money and the neighborhood will be left with a sad crowded funky development in the long run because the City Council in Santa Rosa didn’t give a damn about them. Remember that when you see Erin Carlstrom and Gary Wysocky on the ballot in a few months.

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  3. Steveguy says:

    Why mandate the planter strips on every street of every project ?

    I have lived and worked around Santa Rosa for decades. Nothing wrong with the sidewalk next to the curb to me, and I prefer it that way.

    Parking on the street and having a passenger get out on a rainy day into a wet planter strip is crazy.

    Look around at those with and those without. Most planter strips are poorly maintained anyway. I had one in Coffee Park and I would rather have had the 6 feet of yard. Across the street they had regular curb/sidewalk. Go figure.

    One of my sons has planters in Rincon Valley, makes sense on one side of his house but not the other that is on a side street (corner lot). Nothing wrong in Montgomery Village, Proctor Terrace, College area and on and on.

    I think it is a stupid blanket regulation. Another one of those zero tolerance things. Just plain stupid to me.

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  4. James Bennett says:

    Lotsa special ‘favors’ for those building Smart Growth.
    Tax excemption, no legal exposure for substandard build quality, often tax payer subsidy, it goes on and on.

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  5. Combs Gets An A, Carlstrom & Wysocky F says:

    I watched this item on cable and was struck by how fast and how much Julie Combs has grown into her role on the Council. She tried to strike a balance after she drove around and actually looked at a number of projects and she listened to the two people on the Council with experience with design standards. She has an appreciation for the value of treating neighborhoods equally and she seems to be so much more mature than the others on the “slate” she ran with originally. She didn’t let politics get in the way of getting information and doing the job which in the case of the quasi legal hearing was to enforce the standards set by the city. She tried but ultimately the city failed.

    The mayor is an architect and knows the value of good design. He explained to the group that they were being presented with a false choice because they did not really have to choose between affordable housing and the basic standards set by the city. The City of SR has built fine affordable housing projects in the past with a lot of amenities for people and that did not degrade the built environment.
    These units could easily have been reconfigured to allow the high density with trees and in compliance with the City’s standards if the Council was willing to enforce it’s own standards and hold the developer’s to it. Instead, right out of the gate, Carlstrom made a motion to grant the appeal and ignore the standards in Roseland as if there was a bum’s rush. What an amateur. The developer submits a substandard plan for Roseland and two of the council members with no design knowledge or experience—Wysocky the CPA and Carlstrom the attorney—don’t bother to even discuss it with the professional architect or the council woman who helped write the design standards sitting on the dais with them.

    With this kind of inconsistency applied to it’s own rules, is it any wonder the city is sued so often? As an attorney Carlstrom should be more cautious, at least as cautious as her colleague Combs. Developers who are required to actually abide by the standards may want damages.

    How many of you out there recall that Carlstrom and Wysocky ran for office claiming to be “environmentalists.” They both sought the endorsement of the Sierra Club. Listening to either of them last night dismiss the need for trees, grass, space, and good design because whatever is cheapest trumps all other considerations makes it clear that their concerns are limited to the East side of town or are just hot air at election time. Listening to them fall all over themselves trying to please developers certainly eliminates any pretense that these two in particular or the “Concerned Citizens” group in general have any concern at all about bringing representation to the people who want to take growth slow and get it right.

    The political machine that puts people like Wysocky and Carlstrom in office should try developing some standards of its own.

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