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Developers win exemption from Santa Rosa greenery requirement

A divided City Council waived a key design requirement Tuesday for a subdivision in southwest Santa Rosa whose developers argued that affordable housing trumped design guidelines requiring strips of grass between the road and sidewalk.

The decision split the council 4-3 between those who felt affordable housing was badly needed in the area and those who felt the residents of Roseland deserved to have well-designed neighborhood streets.

"I don't want to have a planter strip get in the way of creating some more affordable housing for our community," Councilman Ernesto Olivares said.

Other council members agreed with city staff that the developers were trying to put too many homes on the property, resulting in tiny front and backyards and the elimination of planter strips that some felt are an important feature of walkable communities.

"They've crammed too much into too small of a space," Vice Mayor Robin Swinth said.

The developers Michael Gasparini and Allan Henderson want to build a 167-unit residential project on about 12 acres of bare land just outside city limits between Dutton Avenue and the railroad tracks.

The men said they worked for years to clean up the property, which they described as a toxic junkyard with numerous abandoned cars and 60,000 old tires disposed of the on property. They said they removed 7,000 tons of "lightly contaminated" soil.

The property is outside the city limits, but they want to hook up to the city water supply. Before they can do so, the city must confirm that all the other utilities in the project conform with city standards. That's because it is expected that someday the property will become part of Santa Rosa, and it should conform to its standards, such as street and sidewalk width.

Planter strips are required by the city because they create green space, a place for trees to grow and absorb runoff.

"In Santa Rosa, planter strips are a key part of high quality development," planner Erin Morris said.

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