More than a dozen residents in the C section neighborhood of Rohnert Park gathered on the empty field on the corner of East Cotati Avenue and Camino Colegio on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 20. The purpose? To participate in an informational meeting conducted by Farrell-Faber & Associates, Inc., the architecture and planning firm responsible for designing a new mixed-use project owned by property owner Steven Scarpa. This would be the first mixed-use project in this area of Rohnert Park within walking distance of both the Cotati SMART station and Sonoma State University, and is unique in that there are both commercial and residential uses in the same building.
Boards with architectural renderings and artist sketches of the proposed project were set up in the field and Matt Taylor, Project Manager at Farrell Faber & Associates, Inc. was on hand to answer questions and review the proposed modified changes since the project was first designed in the Fall of 2016. When residents quickly noticed that most of their concerns with the project had not been accounted for, tempers quickly flared.
“They don’t care about what is best for the neighborhood,” said Kim Butler, one of the local residents. “They just want to make as much money as they can but they won’t be here to deal with the effects.”
The primary point of contention for the local residents is the high residential density of the proposed project and what that means in terms of parking – a problem already plaguing the neighborhood. The project proposes 4,550 square feet of commercial and office space, and 31 apartments (16 one bedroom and 15 studio units) on a lot space barely over 1.16 acres.
Other complaints by neighbors include an additional driveway on Cala Way, increasing traffic on a small residential street that is already overused by drivers using it as a short cut to avoid congestion on East Cotati – often far exceeding the speed limit. Residents on Caridad Court also fear that the proximity to their fence line, and the fact that the proposed project is two stories high, will eliminate their privacy.
Taylor quickly interjected that the proposed plan will include 55 on-site parking spaces and six new off-site spaces along Camino Colegio, whereas the city of Rohnert Park only requires a total of 54 spaces. Yet residents were quick to point out that the reality does not match the zoning requirements. What should be adequate simply is not, with multiple people (often college students) renting units meant for only one or two people.
Two days later on June 22, neighbors were able to express their concerns at what was supposed to be a public hearing for the conditional use permit/site plan and architectural review at the planning commission of the City of Rohnert Park. Unfortunately Farrell-Faber requested a continuance so the rest of their design team could be present. It was decided by the planning commission that it would be best to hold the discussion and deliberation on the same day, which was rescheduled for July 13, 2017. However, given that about 15 members of the public were present to express their opinions, the commission allowed residents to make their statements.
Bill Butler expressed his concern regarding parking and traffic. “This modified project still has the same number of parking spaces, and with some of the spaces being specific for handicap and electric vehicles, that limits parking even more,” said Butler. “Occupants have more than just one car. The neighborhood will be denser than the project implies. Also, with no pass through in the parking lots, trash trucks and other larger vehicles will end up blocking traffic on Camino Colegio. This project simply is not appropriate for this neighborhood.”
As one resident remarked, the apartment complex across the street had undoubtedly also adhered to zoning requirements for parking when it was built. Yet those requirements simply do not reflect today’s reality, which is why this particular neighborhood in the C section is already used as an overflow parking lot for that complex.
The primary concern for Joe Drescher was safety. “With people parking on the corners around Camino Colegio and Cala Way, you can’t see cars when you’re coming in and out,” said Drescher. “There’s going to be an accident and someone is going to get hurt. I’m surprised it hasn’t already happened.”
Four residents in all, publicly voiced their opinions, criticizing various aspects of the project from the high density which will further exasperate parking and traffic, to the proximity of the proposed trash receptacles to the homes on Caridad Court.
With the rental vacancy rate in Sonoma County hovering under 3%, city leaders are certainly pressured to approve construction projects to ease the burden of residents seeking a place to live. In addition, rising home prices make lower income units especially appealing. However, residents of the neighborhood affected by the proposed project urged city leaders to complete a detailed planning study before approving the plans.
Those residents who will be affected by, or interested in, the proposed project are urged by city leaders to attend the public hearing on July 13, 2017 in Council Chambers at the City Offices of Rohnert Park, or submit a written statement in advance for presentation to the Commission at the public hearing.