Money for affordable units could speed Railroad Square project

The developer of a transit-oriented project at Railroad Square wants to shift the location of affordable housing units in an attempt to jump-start a companion project.

The John Stewart Co. is asking the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency for permission to move 68 senior housing units from the "transit village" on SMART's property to the adjacent Cannery project Stewart also owns.

Doing so could get the Cannery project going because financing is available for affordable housing, and a tenant, Club One Fitness Center, is lined up to take a major share of the building, said John Stewart, the company's chairman.

"This is not the market it was three or four years ago," Stewart said. "We need to start what we think is going to be financeable."

Railroad Square residents, however, are looking for a guarantee that if the units are moved, that someone won't come back in the future and demand more affordable housing on the SMART project.

"Our neighborhood is home to the Redwood Gospel Mission, we are home to the soup kitchen, we have 32 units of Burbank Housing in our neighborhood," said resident Carol Dean. "We feel we are doing our fair share down here."

Resident Allen Thomas said he and neighbors want the negotiations between Stewart and SMART to be public.

One of the sticking points for the neighbors is the contract negotiated with SMART by the Accountable Development Coalition, a political activist group, that sets a requirement for the number of affordable housing units on the SMART property. They want that contract, called a Community Benefit Assessment, to be amended to acknowledge that SMART's affordable requirement would be met by the Cannery project.

"We are concerned that there will be potential where someone will come back in three years and say you promised to put at least 40 units on the SMART site and you cannot count those 68 units," Thomas said.

Stewart is lead developer in the New Railroad Square Project, which has evolved from a SMART-only project, once envisioned to be similar to the Ferry Building in San Francisco, to now also include the Cannery.

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