Santa Rosa residents on Wednesday night began to weigh in on Sonoma County’s plans to transform a vacant public property on West College Avenue into a new apartment complex.
At the first of at least two public meetings regarding the 7.5-acre site, county and city officials informed about 40 attendees why they see the land as a prime spot for new residences, including the property’s proximity to a transit hub and shopping, as well as the county’s perennial housing crunch.
They also heard from numerous residents who weighed in with concerns about traffic, crime and how affordable the new housing might be, among other issues.
Development of the site at 2150 W. College Avenue, the former headquarters of the Sonoma County Water Agency, has been a long time coming. Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, whose district includes the area, told attendees at the meeting in the Finley Community Center that she often heard questions about the property while she was campaigning for her first term last year.
“I cannot count the number of times that I heard people say, ‘What the heck is happening to that derelict Water Agency building that’s been sitting on College Avenue for who knows how long, when we have a tremendous need for affordable housing in the community?” Hopkins said.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed in June to sell the site to the county’s Community Development Commission, which plans to sell the land to a housing developer.
It’s the second major effort supervisors have advanced this year to address the local housing crisis by selling county-owned land. The first concerned the 82-acre site of the county’s old hospital complex off Chanate Road, which supervisors agreed last month to sell to a developer who wants to build as many as 800 housing units there, plus 50-60 additional housing units specifically for homeless veterans, a grocery store and other amenities.
The potential of the West College Avenue site, by comparison, is far more limited. The county has previously estimated the site could support about 170 apartments, with between 32 and 50 of them affordable to a four-member family with an annual income of $52,860 or less per year.
The county hopes to choose a developer early next year, but the exact timeline remains up in the air because officials want to “take the temperature of the community” before moving to sell it again, said Margaret Van Vliet, the executive director of the Community Development Commission.
“We don’t want to be bound by a predetermined schedule until we really have a sense both of what’s feasible and what the community wants,” Van Vliet said. Once the county sells the land, it will need to pass through Santa Rosa’s planning process because it lies within city limits.
Santa Rosa resident Jack Kilbride, who lives near the property, was among several who expressed concerns about the potential apartment complex, pointing out that the area already has a number of other low-income housing developments.
“We just feel like you’re circling us with these units in this neighborhood instead of spreading it out and sharing it,” Kilbride said. “I think there’s better uses for that property.”
This is not the first time development has been proposed for the West College Avenue site since the Water Agency completed its move to its current Santa Rosa headquarters in 2013. Santa Rosa City Schools looked at putting a charter school on the property but abandoned those plans in 2015 when teachers and parents heavily criticized them. A homeless encampment sprang up there earlier that same year before moving to the Roseland Village shopping center.