A split Rohnert Park City Council on Wednesday approved a $1 billion Codding Enterprises' housing and commercial project that has been hailed as a model for environmentally responsible development.
It is to be developed on a 175-acre site that formerly housed the Hewlett-Packard and Agilent manufacturing campus, on the city's southern edge.
The project is "exactly what we need in terms of stimulating economic development in this city," Councilman Jake Mackenzie said of the project, called Sonoma Mountain Village.
Mackenzie, Mayor Pam Stafford and Vice-Mayor Gina Belforte voted to approve a general plan amendment changing the designation of the area from limited industrial to mixed use, which allowed the project to proceed.
On that key vote councilmembers Amie Breeze and Joe Callinan — who voted to approve the project's environmental impact report — voted no.
They argued, respectively, that that the project was wrong for Rohnert Park, would strip the city of land that could be used for industrial development and proposed too many residences.
"It doesn't make sense," said Breeze.
The development would add 1,694 residential units, from apartments to single family homes, to the city and with them a projected 4,400 residents by 2022. It also foresees 825,000 square feet of commercial, retail and office space.
Callinan said the project "has great potential" but would add too many new residences. "My gut is just telling me that it's too many houses," he said.
Breeze said that changing the property's designation would eliminate the possibility of future industrial development on the land. And she went further than Callinan in her criticism of the project, saying it represented a short-term view of economic and real estate development that did not fit with Rohnert Park.
"I think mixed use sounds like a good idea but I don't see it working in Rohnert Park," she said.
Codding Enterprises development director Richard Pope said the company had invested more than $12 million in the project since 2004. when it acquired the site from Agilent. The money has been spent on sewer upgrades, planning and design work and renovating existing building, he said.
He said the company had made a "significant commitment and a gutsy investment" in the project, which he said would be a source of economic energy for the city.
"It is land that should be working for the benefit of the city and bringing in money now," he said.
Echoing other proponents of the project, he said the blend of environmentally-attuned development and mix of business uses would raise Rohnert Park's profile immensely, making it "a destination city and not just a sign on the freeway."
Among the five audience members who spoke in favor of the project was Ky Boyd, owner of Rialto Cinemas, the just-shuttered Santa Rosa art house movie theater. He, too, said the project had the potential to change the face of the city.
"We look forward to being the movie theater proposed in the project," Boyd said. "We think this is a great opportunity along with the Green Music Center (at Sonoma State University) to redefine the cultural center of Sonoma County as Rohnert Park."
Later, he said that plans to open a theater in Sonoma Mountain Village had been underway since 2004 and that his company still hopes to reopen a movie house in Santa Rosa.