Santa Rosa considers bold plan to remake Coddingtown area

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.

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