A last-minute compromise between Coddingtown mall officials and the Santa Rosa City Council helped smooth the approval of plans to guide development of a transit-oriented community around the future Guerneville Road train station.
The mall had objected to some of its properties along Edwards Avenue on the southern border of the mall being rezoned to encourage a mix of housing and commercial uses near the station.
So last month, a split council agreed to remove the "transit village mixed-use" designation in that area and also north of the mall along Cleveland Avenue.
A staff report on the impact of these and other changes, however, estimated that eliminating those classifications would reduce by 483 the number of new housing units the plan would provide and drastically cut the number of jobs it would create.
So Councilman Scott Bartley spoke with Kirstie Moore, development manager of mall co-owner Codding Enterprises on Monday evening and convinced her to accept the zoning on its properties with the exception of the site of the former Los Robles Lodge.
Codding Enterprises is planning a 50,000-square-foot retail store at that location and isn't interested in building a residential project at that site.
Moore, who acknowledged the zoning change will have little impact on the company's plans for the area, said they agreed to the change because "it was important to the community."
Bartley said he appreciated that Codding Enterprises was "willing to stick their neck out and try" the new zoning designation. He said the compromise demonstrated the importance of finding ways to work collaboratively with businesses that are going to be impacted by such sweeping land use-plans.
"It's easy to create a plan, but if we don't have buy-in from the people that actually have the resources and the will to do it, it just becomes another volume sitting on a shelf," Bartley said.
Not everyone was thrilled by the compromise or the numerous other changes made at the behest of the shopping center.
Ben Boyce, a coordinator at the Accountable Development Coalition and strong proponent of transit-oriented development, said the issue had become for him a "civics lesson in the balance of power" in American politics.
He said community groups spent untold hours crafting the plan, then after Coddingtown officials came forward with a "last-minute blindside," all of the "business-friendly council members snapped to attention" to amend the plan.
Former Santa Rosa Planning Commissioner Rick Theis castigated the council majority for changes he said were "extreme and disappointing" and reflect their "abhorrence for citizen participation."
"It's time to look forward, not backward," he said.
But Vice Mayor John Sawyer pointed out it might be smarter to rezone more properties around the station to higher zoning densities after the train is up and running and "all of the people that we hope are clamoring to live next to the rail come and demand that there be more housing next to the station."
Future councils might be better suited to make such decisions than doing so now based on "conjecture" about demand for such development.
Bartley, an architect and former planning commissioner, said he felt "we get a little carried away" with the idea of mixed-use developments near transit.
While it seems "sexy" to some planners and architects, Bartley said the city has a "incredible track record of not being able to implement it here."