A bold plan to encourage higher density housing near the future commuter rail station near Coddingtown mall is winning praise for its embrace of sustainable development principles but also criticism from some worried about its impact on their private property rights.
The city is putting the finishing touches on its North Santa Rosa Station Area Specific Plan, a $500,000 guide for the development of the half-mile around the future SMART station on Guerneville Road.
The plan calls for sweeping changes to the 987-acre area that by 2035 would make it almost unrecognizable from its current automobile-centric suburban landscape.
"It's going to be a great transformation for that part of Santa Rosa," Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, told the commission.
The plan envisions 2,941 new housing units, more than a million square feet of office, retail and industrial space, and the creation of nearly 6,000 new jobs in the area around the mall, extending south to West College Avenue and east of Highway 101 to include the Santa Rosa Junior College.
The plan would rezone 1,300 parcels to allow higher density housing, including apartment buildings of up to five-stories with 40 units per acre. A similar "transit village" environment has been proposed for the area around the SMART station planned for Railroad Square.
The idea is to get more people living in an around the train stations to support ridership, and also to build the infrastructure that will make it easy for people to get to the station by bicycle, foot and car.
Several bicycle and pedestrian paths are proposed, including a bridge to span Highway 101. SMART also is proposing 350 parking spaces at the station.
But some major questions are being raised about the plan, including whether it is realistic, who's going to pay for it and how the city plans to acquire the property needed for the road extensions, bike paths and other improvements.
Patti Cisco, chairwoman of the Planning Commission, said that "keeping our expectations in line with reality" was important when considering the long-range goals of the plan.
"I just really hope that the public remembers that this is a long-term plan," Cisco said. "It's going to take a long time."
She added that the amount of new construction proposed in the plan is "definitely going to occur in a different economy than we're facing now."
The elimination of the city's redevelopment agency was on the mind of Commission Peter Stanley, who noted that the city's ability to pay for the upgrades has been "severely diminished." He worried that the city would lean too heavily on private developers to make the improvements.
"It's complicated to make high-density projects work," said Stanley, a principal at ArchiLOGIX, a Santa Rosa-based architectural design and development consulting firm. "They are very complicated, very expensive projects. They take a real partnership."
He expressed concern that the plan seemed to already have run afoul with mall owners.
Coddingtown development manager Kirstie Moore, in an 17-page letter to the city, praised the overall vision of the plan, which she said "embodies an exciting vision for the future of the northwest area of Santa Rosa" and "will truly revolutionize the way that people live, commute, work and experience life" in the area.