Rohnert Park downtown development update monopolizes council meeting

Rohnert Director of Public Safety Chief Tim Mattos introduced members of the Community Roundtable to the City Council Tuesday night. Not in the order photographed are: Roundtable members (not all present) Amy Bradbury, Stanley Njoroge, Jerlena Griffin-Desta, Rowan Ornallas, Sarah Finnigan, Donald Osborne, David McCarter, Annamaria Young and Jose Morales. City Council members: Mayor Samantha Rodriguez, Vice Mayor Susan Hollingsworth Adams, Council member Jackie Elward, Council member Emily Sanborn and Council member Gerard Giudice.

The Rohnert Park City Council met on Tuesday, February 28 in a lengthy regular meeting lasting over three and a half hours. Half of that time was spent on discussion and update by city staff regarding the development of the city’s downtown project located at 6400 State Farm Dr. The staff presentation was given by Jeff Beiswenger, Rohnert Park’s Planning Manager and Paul Carey, a Senior Analyst in the City Manager’s Office.

They provided background on the designs for a “Downtown” Rohnert Park that dates to 2014 through the present. They highlighted that a common theme for all these various designs included the elements of retail (mixed-use), housing (mixed-use), and parks and open space. They showed various design layouts to include the 2014 SunCal Rohnert Crossings proposal, the 2016 Central Rohnert Park Plan, the 2018 Form Based Code Regulating Plan, and the 2019 Station Avenue Final Development Plan by Laulima. They then provided some draft plans that the staff has been working on since the city purchased the property in 2022. 

In addition to looking at the various layouts and plans, they provided the initial feedback from the community. In response to the “Downtown - What is Important to You?” question,  they reviewed the top five priorities as: new restaurants, places to sit/socialize, greenery, walkability, and outdoor events/festivals. In response to the “Downtown – What Do You Want to See?” question, they listed the top five responses as: casual restaurants, entertainment venues, gift & clothing shops, fine dining, and brewpubs. 

Part of the presentation was to outline the existing entitlements impacting on the site and its development potential, discuss Municipal Code provisions to ensure quality downtown development (called Form Based Code), and recommended next steps. They also floated some suggested names to call the downtown ranging from “The Seed Farm” to honor the origins of the city, to “The Station” recognizing it as being adjacent to the SMART Train stop and as a transportation hub, or perhaps “The Friendly Square” to build upon Rohnert Park the Friendly City theme, among others. Staff will continue to work on potential names for the site with an intent to poll residents on what to name the downtown.

Staff recommended and city council agreed that 1.5 to 2 acres of the project would be set aside to expand the existing City Corporation Yard to allow the Public Works Department to expand the yard for employee parking, city owned vehicle parking, and additional employee workspace. They also advised the council about the tree health on the project land. Currently about 75 trees remain; however, 33 trees have declined beyond recovery, and they recommend removing those trees due to liability purposes.

Another recommendation approved by the city council was to rescind the various previously approved planned development zoning designation which will streamline the design approval process and reduce the cost of development. Other existing entitlements would also be rescinded to “avoid clouding future approvals and agreements with potential developers.” This action will be brought back to the council at a future meeting for formal approval. 

Another barrier to moving forward is compliance with the Surplus Land Act. They will present that topic at a future council meeting since that’s the “first step in making progress on the downtown development.” They will seek the council’s approval to seek an exemption from that act since the city “intends to build more than 300 units of which as least 25 percent are affordable to low-income households.” Obtaining this exemption will speed up development of the site by many months.

In other council news, the council approved an increase in the FY 2022-23 budget of $88,000 from the General Fund and Special Revenue Casino Mitigation Funds to purchase a fully equipped Special Assistance for Everyone (SAFE) Van. The existing van and team is shared by the city with the City of Cotati and Sonoma State University. It is now operating 24 hours a day. An additional van could be used to help with the longevity of the existing vehicle and as an overlap during shift changes when the van is on a transport and not readily available to the community. This was a target of opportunity because a local dealership in Sonoma County received delivery of a Ford Transit Van which was the exact model of the previously purchased van. If not bought now, the “next available window to order a van is 2024 at the earliest.”  

Finally, the council approved resolutions to participate in the California Department of Housing and Community Development Prohousing Designation Program and to Authorize Application for that program’s Incentive Pilot Program Funds which could range from $250,000 to $750,000 in grant money for affordable housing and homeless efforts of the city. They also supported the staff’s recommendation to move forward with the implementation of Monthly Utility Billing in the city which is projected to commence in July 2023.

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