A decision last week by the Santa Rosa City Council to pull the plug on a senior housing project in Railroad Square isn't necessarily the end of the line for the 93-unit complex.
Councilwoman Julie Combs, who voted against San Francisco developer John Stewart's latest plans for the site, says she has lingering questions about the impact of that controversial 4-3 decision.
"I'm feeling the need to take a little more time and to hear a little more information," Combs said.
Combs is one of the three new council members who in a surprise move sided with Mayor Scott Bartley against the project.
They questioned whether the site is suitable for low income seniors, whether that demographic would boost ridership for the SMART commuter train, and whether the deal would constitute a bailout for the developer.
Supporters say allowing Stewart to go forward with the senior project on his 2.1-acre property on Third Street, where the brick walls of a former cannery have been propped up for years awaiting construction, would be a catalyst for the development on the neighboring property owned by SMART.
But Combs now says she isn't certain she fully understood the implications of her vote and hopes to meet this week with city staff to get more detailed answers.
It's unclear to her what happens to the millions of dollars set aside for the project if it is derailed, she said. For example, Stewart is suing to prevent the state from taking $5.5 million in redevelopment and housing funds committed to the project, and she wants to know what happens to that money if he drops his suit.
Combs said she also wants to better understand how allowing this piece of the development to go forward would affect future development on the remainder of the 11-acre property west of the tracks between Third and Sixth streets.
She noted that anyone who voted in the majority on an item, as she did, has the right to reconsider his or her vote at the next council meeting, set for April 30. She would make her decision about whether to do so after gathering more information this week, she said.
"That is always a possibility," Combs said.
It did give her pause that the three new council members all voted against the project, while three more experienced council members voted for it, she said.
"It did make me ask myself 'Do they have information, because of their history with the project that I didn't have?'" Combs said.
Bartley said he is confident the overall site will one day be developed as a transit-oriented mixed use development. But "it came time to pull the plug" because in his view the project has a number of major hurdles to overcome. The latest proposal, which lacked a mixed-use component and focused solely on low-income seniors, didn't fit the overall plan, which itself was "hanging on by its nails since day one."
Early plans for the 11-acre site called for a 40,000-square-foot food-and wine center similar to the Ferry Building in San Francisco, 40,000 square feet of office space, 279 units of market-rate and affordable housing, a 263-space parking garage and several restaurants.
In 2010, the board of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District allowed Stewart and his partners in shift the 68 units of affordable housing from the SMART property, which Stewart had an option to purchase and develop, onto the cannery site.
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