Santa Rosa council approves gay and lesbian retirement community

It took five years to get a once controversial gay and lesbian retirement project before Santa Rosa's City Council for final approval but when it got there Tuesday it only took 30 minutes to approve it.

"We got a wonderful project out of it," Councilwoman Jane Bender said of the lengthy process that resulted in a substantially smaller development than first proposed by Aegis Senior Living.

The project, called Fountaingrove Lodge, originally envisioned 148 units on a 9.8-acre parcel sandwiched between Thomas Lake Harris Drive and the Fountaingrove Golf Course.

Opponents led by the Fountaingrove Ranch Master Association charged the project was too dense and claimed the 312,000 square feet of hilltop buildings would be too visible. Critics also said it would result in the removal of hundreds of trees, intrude into wildlife habitats and generate unwanted traffic as well as excessive greenhouse gas emissions.

Initially, there were accusations some of the opposition was fueled by homophobic opposition to a retirement community geared to gays and lesbians, accusations that eventually dissipated.

The revised project, however, calls for construction of only 109 units in buildings that cover 236,600 square feet. The changes reduced building heights by six feet, eliminated 18 parking spaces, increased building setbacks and preserved trees.

Only Skip Epperly, president of the homeowner's association, urged the council Tuesday to reject the project. The group filed an appeal seeking to overturn the Planning Commission's unanimous Feb. 11 approval of the project.

Epperly expressed concerns that Aegis will use two adjoining parcels it owns to expand the lodge at a later date.

Aegis spokesman Steve McCullagh said that's not in his company's plans.

"We have no intention of continuing this project," he said, adding both adjoining parcels are up for sale.

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