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Santa Rosa seeks input on housing density

6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Finley Community Center Auditorium, 2060 W. College Ave.


How much additional housing can — or should — your Santa Rosa neighborhood be asked to absorb?

The city is seeking feedback from the public Monday on its plan to dramatically increase housing densities throughout the city, especially downtown and near its two train stations.

The plan calls for increasing incentives known as density bonuses for developers that could allow up to 100 percent more housing units on a particular property than regular zoning would allow.

“This is an important tool in our tool chest to address the housing crisis,” said David Guhin, director of planning and economic development. “It’s not going to solve all of the issues, but it’s an important one.”

Currently, developers who build affordable units in their projects can be granted the right to build up to 35 percent more units than normal.

But state law allows bonuses of up to 100 percent, and the city has been studying whether that makes sense for Santa Rosa. A study recently concluded that, depending on the location, density bonuses of 60, 80 or 100 percent might be appropriate.

That means a given project of 100 units could add 60, 80 or 100 more homes, many of them designated as affordable units for at least 55 years.

The upside is the city’s stock of affordable and workforce housing could significantly rise, relieving some pressure on residents squeezed by high rents and soaring home values.

The challenge will be dealing with neighborhood opposition to larger, taller apartment buildings that will invariably follow proposed increases in density.

While much work has been done on the subject behind the scenes, no decisions have been made, Guhin said.

“We need to have a conversation to look at what’s possible, and we’re starting that conversation Monday,” he said.

The city’s planning consultant, M-Group, took a close look at the issue and found that most of the 23 cities and counties studied applied the same 35 percent limit Santa Rosa uses now. A few, including Napa, Emeryville and Sonoma County, have bonuses up to 100 percent.

The 62-page report suggested Santa Rosa adopt a tiered system, with some areas appropriate for 60 percent bonuses, others 80 and others 100 percent.

For example, the former Pricket’s Nursery site at the intersection of Highway 12 and Calistoga Road could get a bonus of up to 100 percent, though the property is now slated for a shopping center. The Safeway complex could qualify for a bonus of up to 80 percent. Adjoining parcels to the north and east, near the residential Skyhawk neighborhood, are slated for a bump of up to 60 percent.

Not all sites will qualify for the full bonuses, however. The plans take a number of factors into consideration, including: whether the area is already zoned for higher-density housing, proximity to schools and single-family residential areas.

Other qualifying factors for developers include number and type of affordable housing proposed, open space protection, historic preservation and share of rental housing for families.

The city envisions density bonus decisions being made on a point system, with calculations made to determine whether a project qualified for the full bonus. Such detailed analysis is needed to ensure a higher-density project is appropriate for a particular site, Guhin said.

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“We have to have a policy that reflects that complexity, but still tries to make it easy to understand by developers and the community, so they know what’s possible,” Guhin said.

Monday’s meeting will also discuss two other initiatives the city is pursuing under its Housing Action Plan. These include inclusionary housing — the requirement that developers build affordable units into their projects, instead of just paying a fee — and making it easier and cheaper to build granny units.

To read more about the city’s Housing Action Plan, visit www.srcity.org/housingactionplan.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.