With work on the 2020 General Plan reaching its conclusion, the Rohnert Park City Council opted Tues. evening to defer consideration of amendments to zoning on lands west of Highway 101 until after its completion.
Up until now the Rohnert Park City Council has lacked a clear idea of what to do with the west end of the city. The area has changed dramatically since the conception of Rohnert Park’s current General Plan back in 2000; there’s the Graton Casino now, for starters, and a large number of new residential neighborhoods, commercial retailers and hotels—honestly the list goes on.
While nominally guided by the current General Plan, the city has taken a more patch-work approach to planning the west end of Rohnert Park, changing zoning on a case-by-case basis. The result has been a confusing mishmash of industrial, commercial and residential without a central hub or school for all the 1,551 residential dwellings on that side of Rohnert Park, most of which are high density residential and apartment units.
“At the moment the west side is formless. Things have been plugged in there without a plan, one way or another,” Councilmember Jake Mackenzie said.
Rohnert Park was originally founded as a planned city. Its neighborhoods were designed around schools and parks, and for its history the east side of the city has kept, mostly, to that original template.
The west has not. Its purpose at the start was to act as the industrial and commercial end for Rohnert Park—to separate all the nasty and loud things nobody wants in their backyard away from people’s backyards. Because time perverted that original intention, the council now needs to contend with the realities of the estimated 5,000 or so Rohnert Park citizens living on that side of the city. To that end, city staff requested direction as to what council might like to see in the 2020 General Plan regarding the west.
The council answered with a call to go back to west’s original intention.
They did discuss whether to try and salvage the west end of the city with medium density housing—townhouses and duplexes—but finding a developer would be difficult. ‘Missing Middle’ is the term used to describe medium density housing and it earned that name because it’s hard to turn a profit. Developers make more money off single-family homes and high density apartments than they might off of a bungalow. As such, that’s what they build.
“I didn’t even think the apartments were a good idea. We have no schools or amenities—so why would we want to put more kids over there if we know that we’re not going to have more schools?” Vice Mayor Joseph Callinan said. “Sure, Fiori Estates has a nice little swimming pool, but that’s not what Rohnert Park was founded on.”
So, with salvaging the west side off the table, the Rohnert Park City Council instead directed staff to bend the 2020 General Plan more towards economic development—commercial and industrial—rather than residential.
Yet the west side is still part of Rohnert Park, and with all the new housing and growth the city has experienced in recent years, getting back and forth has become a problem. Most of the city’s traffic is focused on the Rohnert Park Expressway. The council hoped to one-day ease some of that traffic and so they instructed staff to explore the possibility of an overpass along State Farm Dr.
To be clear, there’s no money budgeted for an overpass on State Farm Dr., but an inclusion in the 2020 General Plan would leave open the potential for it at some point in the future.
“If we’re going to add 14,000 homes then I want [the overpass] on this side of the 20-year plan,” Mayor Gina Belforte said. “When you add housing and you add jobs but you don’t add infrastructure then you’re just doing your community a disservice.”