Santa Rosa has begun the process of annexing a 10-acre property on Piner Road that eventually could be developed into more than 300 multi-family housing units.

The City Council on Tuesday approved the "pre-zoning" for the undeveloped property at 2200 Piner Road, west of Marlow Road. The parcel is one of dozens of islands of unincorporated county property surrounded by the city.

Annexations ultimately must be approved by the Local Agency Formation Commission, a panel consisting primarily of county, city and special district officials.

The land is owned by Barbara Kringle of Brentwood and has been eyed for annexation for years. It was part of an annexation application submitted in 2007 for 30 acres, but that process was "frozen" when the city ran into financial trouble, said city planner Noah Housh.

When the city declared a fiscal crisis in 2009 and 2010, it was prevented from annexing property because it couldn't provide services to its existing area. The fiscal crisis expired on July, 1, 2011.

The property owner decided to move forward with annexation of the 10-acre parcel last year. The city will require the applicant to pay to offset the increased costs of providing city services to the area, most likely by accepting a special taxing district on the property, Housh said.

Part of a 2008 city law that required some property owners seeking to develop property to vote in favor of joining a special taxing district was overturned in 2010 after a judge concluded it "unfairly tampers with the elective process."

The special district created by the city remains in place, but the city now gives property owners options for how they want to pay to offset the increased cost of city services, said City Manager Kathy Millison.

Michael Barnett, who lives near the property, questioned the appropriateness of allowing up to 312 housing units in buildings up to 45 feet tall so close to low-density parcels.

"Maybe that wasn't the best zoning to approve for this area," Barnett said.

The number of units ultimately approved for the site will depend on a number of factors, including the existence of a wetlands and plans for a three-acre neighborhood park on the site, Housh said.

The property has a number of eucalyptus and oak trees, a 1.3-acre area of wetlands and some rare plants, according to a staff report.