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Santa Rosa downtown apartment project deemed too tall, heads to City Council on appeal

Developers behind a new project that would add 24 apartments above office space in downtown Santa Rosa are asking the City Council to override objections that the proposed five-story project is too tall for its location.

Though Santa Rosa has sought to entice infill projects that add more housing downtown, even loosening height limits, The Flats development brought forward by two local firms, ArchiLogix and the Morris Karsten Group, was denied approval by the city’s Cultural Heritage Board last month. The board found it was one story too tall for where it would exist at 528 B Street, just south of the Brew cafe.

Neighborhood opponents and some on the board said a five-story building was too tall for the historic St. Rose neighborhood, even though it would be within Santa Rosa’s height limits.

But for Peter Stanley, principal of Santa Rosa architecture firm ArchiLogix and a co-developer of the project, dropping the building down to four stories would mean losing a quarter of the apartments, a loss of revenue that makes the project unfeasible.

“That’s a huge hit,” Stanley said. “If we could have done that, we would have.”

The project is estimated to cost $10 million to $12 million, Stanley said. Once the project is complete, ArchiLogix would move into the ground floor of The Flats with co-developer MKG Investing, which currently operates in the single-story building that occupies the site.

Above the commercial space would be four floors with two dozen market-rate one- and two-bedroom apartments. All parking would be located in a nearby city garage, according to planning documents.

The project, which has been in the works since at least January 2019, is subject to additional scrutiny due to its location within the St. Rose historic district. It went before both the Design Review Board and the Cultural Heritage Board on Nov. 23 for a virtual hearing.

The design board overwhelmingly supported the project, with some requests to consider a handful of aesthetic changes. But the Cultural Heritage Board rendered a split decision that effectively rejected two necessary planning approvals for the project. Some heritage board members said the building was too tall and a misfit for the area, despite Santa Rosa’s need for housing.

“The building is just really, really big, and it’s really, really high,” said Brian Meuser, who chairs the Cultural Heritage Board. “I just can’t really support the five stories, as far as being compatible with the historic neighborhood.”

A joint vote to approve the project’s design failed for lack of support from the heritage board members, and a separate vote on a landmark alteration permit taken just by the seven-member Cultural Heritage Board failed, with two votes in favor, Meuser and another member voting no, two members abstaining and one seat vacant.

Stanley expressed optimism about the appeal to the City Council, noting that he and development partner Tom Karsten of MKG Investing both had experience serving on the city’s Planning Commission and were familiar with the city’s rules and policies.

“My expectation is that the city would follow its own policies and go ahead with this project,” Stanley said.

Plans for The Flats call for breaking ground in late spring or early summer if the appeal succeeds, with construction finished roughly 14 months later, Stanley said. Rents remain unknown due to the uncertainty over the final cost of the project, he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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