Sonoma County has for several years wanted to sell a vacant building complex it owns in west Santa Rosa, but with the devastating October wildfires having intensified the region’s housing crisis, local officials now hope to get the property in the hands of a private developer faster than originally planned.
The county’s Community Development Commission this week released a request for developers to show their qualifications and interest in building new housing at 2150 W. College Ave. Prospective applicants have until 3 p.m. Monday to respond, and county supervisors could decide to move forward in some fashion the next day.
“We already had a housing shortage, and so every development that can be expedited and we can get out of the way in government to make stuff happen — I think that’s the order of the day,” said Margaret Van Vliet, the commission’s executive director.
County officials previously estimated the 7.5-acre site could support 170 apartments. Van Vliet thinks the property could ultimately house closer to 200 units.
The commission bought the property, which was formerly the headquarters of the county Water Agency, for $4.2 million this summer and then kicked off a process to select an apartment developer. But after the fires last month wiped out 5 percent of Santa Rosa’s housing stock, along with thousands of other homes outside city limits, the county decided it needed to speed up the process as much as possible.
Accelerating the sale may require the county to relinquish some control over exactly what gets built there, including the maximum range of affordable units. Yet officials see it as an easy opportunity to speedily develop dozens of new units in an area where new housing of all income levels can’t come fast enough.
An exact completion date will depend on which proposal the county selects and how Santa Rosa handles the process, because the site is within city limits. If the county approves a concept that can be built relatively quickly — such as modular housing — Van Vliet estimated a project could open within the first half of next year.
Interested developers will need to show the county they have deep financial resources at their disposal and a track record of building high-quality housing projects that are successfully managed their properties once completed, officials said. The county plans to give extra weight to proposals that can be built quickly and efficiently using innovative construction methods.
Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who represents the area where the property is located, agreed the county needs to move forward with the project as fast as possible, but she cautioned officials not to disregard public engagement along the way. County officials held two community meetings about the project after the commission took over the property, and Hopkins still wants neighbors’ input to be considered, even with the faster development time.
“Even though there’s a sense of urgency, this is also something that they will be living with for decades to come,” Hopkins said at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. “We want to make sure we do it quickly, but we do it right and we make sure that the community is part of that conversation.”
Burbank Housing CEO Larry Florin applauded county supervisors’ efforts to fast-track new housing at the West College Avenue property.