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July 9, 2020
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More high density in Rohnert Park

By: Joshua Farestveit-Moore
April 12, 2019

The Rohnert Park City Council instructed city staff Tues., April 9th to alter the University Specific Plan to make way for more high density housing. 

The issue is that many of the lots within the University District are especially vulnerable to overflow. This is all thanks to the floodplains created by Copeland and Hinebaugh Creek, which makes developing in the region difficult. Mitigating the risk of flood requires infrastructure on the east side of Petaluma Hill Road, a lot of it—$17 million worth, according to an analysis done in 2018 by Sonoma Water. 

That number isn’t financially viable for Rohnert Park, but the contract with the developers of the University District require some sort of basin. The temporary one currently along the Rohnert Park Expressway looks to be growing into something less temporary. The change in plans leaves less room for the developer, which means Rohnert Park needs to squeeze more use out of the land that’s still available.

In 2014 the Rohnert Park City Council partitioned the 300-acre University District into 1,645 residential units. Even after Tuesday’s changes, the city is going to hold to that 1,645 number, most of which will be a combination a medium and low density housing. That means tract homes and townhouses. Until the basin to the east of Petaluma Hill Road was completed—that’s the project the city found cost $17 million—then an empty plot of land to the south of the Rohnert Park Expressway, designated UDLLC, would act as the temporary basin and medium density housing. 

Because that basin looks to become permanent, the developer asked and received tacit permission to classify it as high density. It now goes to the Rohnert Park Planning Department. 

The problem with the change to high density is that the designation leaves the door open for a future owner to build a different type of housing than the Rohnert Park City Council originally intended. That future owner may build an apartment complex, for instance, and if there was an apartment complex on the UDLLC property then it could make the land more attractive to Sonoma State for student housing. Sonoma State is a California institution and isn’t subject to local zoning laws, which means they could build whatever they pleased on that property. 

If they bought it, of course. That’s not a given, but it was enough of a concern that Mayor Gina Belforte raised the issue. 

“I do have a concern, though, that we’re doing the swap and if it gets sold off then we’ll lose control of that land,” Belforte said. “We’re very flexible with people. We think something is going to go one way and then it goes in a totally different direction.”

Yet not everyone in the city council agreed with Belforte. Councilmember Jake Mackenzie claimed the possibility of Sonoma State purchasing the property had existed for years, and as far he was concerned they were welcome to the plot. To Mackenzie, the property’s relative proximity to the university made it a perfect fit if the school decided to grow in that direction. 

“It’s call the University District for a reason. (...) If this doesn’t end up with some connection to Sonoma State then I feel it would be a huge opportunity lost,” Mackenzie said. “Whatever happens between the University District and the University will probably have the same degree of success as it’s had for the past twenty years—which is none.” The Rohnert Park City Council’s direction on the alterations to the University District now go back to the Planning Department.

Residents of Rohnert Park who might like to voice their opinion on the direction the neighborhood moves in should contact the city hall at (707)-588-2226.