March 23, 2018
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RP approves amendment to speed up housing development

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
January 12, 2018

In a big effort to help fire victims who have lost their homes, the Rohnert Park City Council voted 5 to 0 Tuesday to amend an agreement with developers to speed up the completion of a new housing development that when completed will boast over 100 residential lots and will allow for the inclusion of 55 more units.

When the Sonoma Complex Fire raged through Santa Rosa and many other parts of Sonoma County in October of 2017, around 5,130 housing units were destroyed, creating an even more dire need for housing throughout the county. The disaster also spurred a gargantuan rent increase and the fear of rent gouging. In an article reported by the Voice, it was found that rent for a studio apartment in Santa Rosa went from around $992 to a whopping $3,700, a 401 percent increase following the fires.

These combined factors make for a difficult and expensive housing market for fire victims, with some families even having to move out of the county or moving in with family in order to find a place to live. As reported in The Mercury News, one family of five had to move to Oakland since their insurance company couldn’t find anything closer to their former Larkfield Santa Rosa home. The same article tells a story of a family of five having to stay in a relative’s 900-square-foot apartment. 

To try and help solve this exacerbated housing crisis, the RP City Council asked developmental services at a late 2017 city council meeting to accelerate construction of the South East Specific Plan Area housing project near the University District.

The first portion of the project includes the completion of 105 residential lots with all the required improvements and infrastructure that comes along with building new housing. 

However, according to the agenda item report on the amendment prepared by Director of Developmental Services, Mary Grace Pawson, “The development agreement (DA) between the Penn Grove Mountain LLC and the City limits the project to 50 building permits until an in-tract water tank has been completed.”

Creation of a new water tank would take a lengthy 18 months, holding back the completion of the first segment of the project. However, after city staff engineers analyzed the current water system in place, they determined that the existing infrastructure will be able to support the number of homes expected to be built.

During the public hearing for the ordinance, one RP resident Tim Smith addressed the council about his concerns about the capacity of the water infrastructure and if it would still be able to adequately supply firefighting efforts in the event of another fire.

“We did analyze the ability of our water systems to provide service to the first phase of the South East Specific Plan. We made some minor modifications at a couple of pump stations and we do have the capacity to provide fire flow and storage. And a major change that has occurred during this development agreement is that the University District project is going in parallel and we do have a new water tank under construction that will augment the ability of our system to serve the area,” Pawson said. 

The additional water tank for the University District area is expected to be completed towards the end of 2018.

Now that the creation of an all new water tank is not required, the housing developer can go ahead with the construction without the limitation of 50 permits.

As explained in the agenda report, “Modifying the DA to allow Phase One to be completed without the water tank will allow 55 more residential units to be delivered to the market within the next six to nine months.”

This new amendment will only change Section 4.12 of the DA, which will allow the developer to “Extend the trigger for the water tank construction from the 50th residential building permit to the 106th residential building permit,” the agenda report stipulates. Essentially, this amendment ensures the acceleration of the permit process since the developer does not have to worry about installing a new water tank.

City council members unanimously supported the ordinance that amends the DA since they had strongly voiced at an earlier meeting that this was a task they wanted to complete in order to ensure more housing. This move also aligns with the city’s Strategic Plan Goal A — Practice participative leadership at all levels.

The effort, “Exemplifies a timely and meaningful response to the Sonoma Complex Fires that will result in a more rapid delivery of approved housing stock.”

Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane commended Rohnert Park for taking a proactive approach on housing, saying this effort is a good example of towns working across a county to help make a difference. 

“I would absolutely support this. This is the kind of flexibility that can work across jurisdictional boundaries to be able to help developers expedite housing,” Zane said. “Before the fire we had a housing crisis, now we have a housing catastrophe and now there’s thousands who don’t have housing.”