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Council's tentative approval overrides long-term opposition to $40 million development


A proposed $40 million housing development next door to the Carrillo Adobe - the birthplace of Santa Rosa - got tentative approval Tuesday from the City Council.

The council, taking what was described as a straw vote, gave unanimous support to a plan that includes 140 condominiums, plus 25 apartments for low-income senior citizens, on 14.8 acres across from the Montgomery Village shopping center.

City Attorney Brien Farrell said a final vote will be taken Dec. 6, providing time for the city to refine its environmental findings in case of a lawsuit.

The Sonoma County Historical Society had threatened to sue the city if it approved the housing project, arguing that it would destroy the historical and cultural integrity of the Carrillo Adobe site.

The land east of St. Eugene's Cathedral on Montgomery Drive is home to two deteriorating mud brick walls, the remains of Santa Rosa's first home. It was built in 1837 by Do? Maria Carrillo, her sons and Indian laborers.

After the council voted, Tony Hoskins, president of the Historical Society, said he is uncertain what his group will do next. "We're going to think about it," he said.

A spokesman for the developers said they hope to begin construction in the spring.

The council vote came at the end of a three-hour hearing and followed several impassioned pleas to protect the entire 14.8-acre site because of its historical value.

Ernest Hoaglin Jr., who described himself as a full-blooded Indian, urged the council to leave undisturbed a site he considers sacred.

While the adobe has occupied the land since 1837, it also is believed to have been a prehistoric Southern Pomo village that may contain a burial ground.

"How would you feel if your mother or father were going to be dug up?" he said. "Let my Native American people rest in peace."

Last year, the council rejected the original plan for the Creekside Village development, a 265-unit apartment complex that was widely assailed.

Historic preservationists argued that it didn't provide enough room around the adobe to preserve and restore it. Neighbors said the project was too dense, that it would oversaturate the area with rentals and that it would exacerbate parking and traffic problems in the neighborhoods.

The developers, Barry Swenson Builder of San Jose and Brett Venture Co. of Pebble Beach, obtained a $5.1 million option on the property in 2000 from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa, which offered it for sale to help repay its debts.

The developers returned earlier this year with a scaled-down proposal that addressed various concerns, including an offer to provide an extra half-acre around the adobe and promising to spend more than $300,000 to prevent further deterioration.

In addition, the revised plan sets aside 0.6 acres for Petaluma Ecumenical Properties to build 25 apartments geared to low-income senior citizens.

"It's a total win-win," Councilman Lee Pierce said.

While other council members agreed that the project is a good fit for the property, they all expressed unhappiness with the neglect that the adobe has been shown over the past half-century.

"The fact it was allowed to get down to very little is part of history itself," Councilwoman Janet Condron said.

But Condron said the project tentatively approved Tuesday will be the first major step to protect the adobe since it was built 168 years ago.