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Rohnert Park Planning Commission: Reclassify industrial land for apartments

The Rohnert Park Planning Commission approved a proposal Thursday night that would allow 6.5 acres of land owned by the parent company of The Press Democrat to be reclassified from industrial to residential use.

The change would allow Sonoma Media Investments, LLC to sell the property to Advanced Building Solutions of Petaluma, which wants to construct a 156-unit apartment complex on the site where The Press Democrat’s printing plant is located just west of Highway 101. The proposal heads next to the City Council.

Advanced Building Solutions built an 84-unit apartment complex, The Reserve, just south of the proposed site. It opened last year and is near capacity.

The commission voted unanimously to rezone the property despite a recommendation by Rohnert Park Planning Manager Jeffrey Beiswenger to reject the proposal, citing the city’s dearth of industrial land. In a previous report presented to the commission, Beiswenger wrote Rohnert Park has only 53 vacant acres of industrial land even though demand for such property “is heating up.” Conversely, Beiswenger argued the city’s general plan contained sufficient land to support apartment complexes with almost 3,000 units in the future.

Beiswenger wrote that he was especially troubled the zoning change would break up the potential to establish a continuous 30-acre business park just south of the Graton Resort & Casino.

“An industrial park area of this size, with easy access to transportation and utility infrastructure, is a significant development opportunity that will eventually be noticed by industrial users wanting to locate in Sonoma County,” he wrote.

But commission members said the dire need for housing outweighed those arguments, especially after the October fires destroyed nearly 5,300 homes in Sonoma County. They also noted other exceptions have been granted to make changes to the city’s general plan since it was updated almost 20 years ago.

“I don’t think there has been a more compelling moment for housing in Rohnert Park history,” said Commissioner Daniel Blanquie.

Sonoma Media Investments in 2016 sold a 12.7-acre piece of the property - including the printing plant - to a Richmond company, PB&J Acquisitions.

In January, the commission approved a 70,000-square-foot food manufacturing facility on the PB&J parcel, located just to the east of the 6.5-acre site discussed Thursday night.

Under the 2016 deal, PB&J agreed to lease back the printing plant to Sonoma Media Investments so the newspaper could continue to be printed locally through 2027, with two five-year options to extend it beyond that date.

That parcel sold for $9.5 million, according to county land records. Sonoma Media Investments CEO Steve Falk, who spoke before the commission Thursday night in favor of the proposal, said after that the sale of the new parcel would allow the company to fully pay off its debt and repay investors who bought the newspaper in 2012, thus insuring the newspaper’s financial viability for the future.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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