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After years of talking about the need to build transit-oriented housing downtown, Santa Rosa may finally be close to getting some.

A developer won approval Thursday for a 72-unit apartment complex called Pullman Lofts just a few blocks north of the future Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit station in Railroad Square.

The project proposes to wedge a three-story complex on the long, narrow 2-acre site of a former lumberyard between the rail line and Wilson Street.

That kind of higher-density housing near a transportation hub is precisely the kind of project the city has tried to encourage for years, but the economy and other factors have made it tough for developers to deliver.

“The marketplace is now catching up with the Downtown Station Area plan of eight years ago,” said Bill Rose, the city’s supervising planner.

The project is the brainchild of Phoenix Development president Loren Brueggemann, who for years built urban redevelopment projects in Minneapolis but since 2010 has lived in Santa Rosa.

He said he is excited about turning a vacant eyesore into vibrant housing that will appeal to young, urban-oriented people who want to live near transit, restaurants, bars and shopping.

“The whole thing just sang to me,” Brueggemann said.

The project plans to preserve the former Law Yeager lumber office at the intersection of eighth and Wilson streets. It was built in 1947, and a consultant has deemed it an architecturally significant building. Most recently used as a warehouse for Copperfield’s Books, the one-story building likely will be turned into a coffee shop or similar retail use.

All the other aging warehouse buildings on the property will be torn down and replaced by six three-story buildings connected by walkways over 73 parking spaces.

The one and two-bedroom units will range from 700 to 1,000 square feet. Prices have yet to be set, but similarly sized units in the new Annadel complex near Coddingtown are renting for $1,700 to $2,100. The complex will have a pool and recreation area. Brueggemann said he hopes to begin construction by the fall.

The project was approved by the city’s Design Review Board with only modest suggestions, including ways to get more greenery on the property, Brueggemann said.

He said he’s not concerned about challenges the project may face, including contaminated soils, which other projects along the rail line have unearthed; the project’s proximity to services for homeless people; or potential concerns about the height of the buildings, which at 40 to 47 feet will tower over the single-story homes and businesses to the east.

“To be a developer you have to be optimistic,” he said. “If you a pessimistic developer, you’re in a lot of trouble.”

At the moment, the entire property is just a dead space that once transformed into attractive housing has the potential to catalyze the neighborhood’s revitalization, he said.

“What’s there now is a big, dark ugly wall that just encourages blight,” Brueggemann said. “You take that out of there, and all of a sudden you’ve created hope.”

The project benefit ed from a streamlined city approvals process because it hewed closely to the type of development called for in the city’s 2007 Downtown Station Area Plan, which set the vision for denser housing and mixed uses around the future station.

The city has a similarly intensive development plan around the Guerneville Road station.

By proposing a project that fit within the rules outlined in the downtown plan, the developer was exempted from conducting an environmental review of the project and needed only the approval of the Design Review Board, Rose explained.

That’s the whole point of such long-range plans — to streamline the development process for the types of projects the city wants to encourage, Rose said.

“The Downtown Station Area Specific Plan has these goals of wanting higher density housing downtown and in proximity to transit, and this project does that,” he said.

There likely will be more such projects in the pipeline. Rose said developers have approached city planners to discuss the potential for housing on other properties in the area.

And SMART and the city are working with a consultant to solicit new development proposals for SMART’s vacant property west of the future station, which was once eyed for housing anchored by a food and wine center. In coming weeks the two agencies hope to reach out to developers for ideas for the site, SMART general manager Farhad Mansourian said. He said he expects strong interest.

“Everywhere we are going, we are seeing a lot of excitement around the stations,” Mansourian said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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