Proposed 8-story apartment project adds to rising skyline for downtown Santa Rosa housing

The project slated for Humboldt Street would join two other developments to create one of the most housing-rich blocks in the city.|

A newly proposed eight-story housing project slated for downtown Santa Rosa would join two other developments to create one of the most housing-rich blocks in the city and advance a long-held vision of City Hall that calls for denser and taller residential projects to inject more vibrancy into Santa Rosa’s urban core.

The new project, the 425 Humboldt Street Apartments, would add 95 apartments and a private courtyard above two stories of concrete parking, replacing a small office building and parking lot. The half-acre project would slot in next door to the Humboldt Apartments, an affordable housing building with 51 units, and it would back up to the Art House, a four-story development under construction that includes 21 new apartments above an art gallery.

Taken together, the 166 units would rival most other large Santa Rosa housing developments, and the new development would contribute one of the densest residential blocks citywide — right in line with city plans to foster increased housing with denser developments downtown to ease the affordable housing crisis.

However, it’s not a done deal, and numerous Santa Rosa projects have come this far only to stall before construction ever begins.

The project from Los Altos-based IGH Partners optimistically frames the new blue, gray and red wooden U-shaped building as the start of something big. It went last week before the city’s Design Review Board, a panel that aims to safeguard Santa Rosa’s architectural aesthetics.

The building, according to developers’ plans, “represents the beginning of a long-anticipated housing renaissance in the heart of downtown Santa Rosa.”

The new building would feature two towers with six stories of apartments connected by bridges over two bottom stories that would mostly include parking spaces for residents but could also include offices, a fitness area and a pet grooming station, according to city documents. The space above the courtyard between the towers would allow for light to filter into the elevated units, with balconies overlooking Humboldt and Riley streets.

“This is a high-end apartment project, not unlike the ones that have been built down by the ballpark in San Francisco,” said developer Tom Robertson, whose history of Santa Rosa projects includes the renovation of the Barnes & Noble building downtown. Developers said construction was not expected to begin until August at the earliest and declined to disclose the estimated cost of the development.

The new project would be located due south of two other housing projects, one existing and one under development. The affordable 51-unit Humboldt Apartments, featuring the Trecini Winery’s tasting room on its ground floor, opened in 2013 at the corner of Humboldt and Seventh streets. Its neighbor to the west is the Art House, a development with 21 apartments and 15 extended-stay units that is set to be finished in March.

Both projects were developed by the Hugh Futrell Corp., a local firm that is heavily involved in downtown development. Its eponymous founder said he requested and received a “modest” 5-foot setback between his developments and their future neighbor. Futrell said he wished them luck.

“It is a beautiful building,” Futrell said. “Time will tell whether they can build it.”

Numerous Santa Rosa projects with similar airy aspirations have come and gone, or are still hanging around without much tangible change.

“The reality is that this is difficult stuff and until the first bulldozer moves dirt a project is only a theory,” Futrell added.

Of the other developments in the pipeline, five could lead to more than 500 new downtown homes:

  • 1 Santa Rosa Ave. (119 units, seven stories)
  • 420 Mendocino Ave. (116 units, six stories)
  • 556 Ross St. (109 units, eight stories)
  • SMART Phase 1 (110 units, six stories)
  • The Cannery at Railroad Square (129 units, six stories)

The city has for decades sought to spur more residential development on downtown blocks that are closer to transit hubs, with a new batch of incentives meant to lure developers, including eased height limits and parking requirements.

Santa Rosa doesn’t track existing residential density, but its plans illustrate where the city envisions larger housing projects to go, said Bill Rose, the city’s interim deputy planning director. The city’s latest downtown plan puts the block at the southern edge at the highest level of allowable development — a zone forming a rough circle around Old Courthouse Square.

In addition to streamlining permitting rules, city staff work closely with developers on a project-by-project basis to help developments through the process, Rose said.

“That is the ultimate goal,” Rose said. “We want to see cranes in the air.”

Over the past decade, Sonoma County grew until the exodus of residents prompted by the 2017 fires, leading to multiple years of declining local population, an unprecedented anomaly across more than a 150 years of record keeping.

Data from the state Department of Finance shows a gradual increase in county population from about 484,000 in 2010 to about 504,000 in early 2017. After that peak, population has dropped each year and was most recently estimated at about 493,000, which was roughly the county’s size around 2012 and 2013.

Santa Rosa’s population likewise increased from about 168,000 in 2010 to more than 177,000 in early 2017 but has since fallen off to about 174,000, according to the most recently available state data.

While the traumatic fires since 2017 are seen as a key factor in the stagnant growth, so too is the shortage of affordable housing — one compounded by the fire losses and the chronic inability of Santa Rosa, the county’s hub, to add more homes.

To help the public monitor new housing projects, the city is working on developing a virtual tracker similar to the online tools created to monitor rebuild progress after the 2017 Tubbs fire, said Clare Hartman, an assistant city manager. The city already creates webpages for prominent developments that are likely to generate interest in the community, whether from housing advocates supporting the projects or neighbors with concerns about increased development.

Despite the city’s focus on pro-housing policies, neighbors’ critiques can still pose big stumbling blocks. At last week’s Design Review Board meeting, the board also got a glimpse at Avenue 320, a four-story, 39-unit apartment project at 320 College Ave. That project ran into staunch resistance from neighbors in the historic St. Rose district, where residents previously have spoken out against nearby developments such as the Caritas Village affordable housing-homeless shelter project and Sonoma County’s acquisition of the Hotel Azura to house formerly homeless residents.

Neighbors’ opposition coalesced with board members’ concerns that the design for the College Avenue project could clash with the neighborhood — dominated by single-family residences on the edge of downtown.

Board members asked developers to delay and rethink the project.

“We have on other occasions been warned that if projects in our historic district are rejected, this will cause developers to shun Santa Rosa,” said St. Rose resident Roy Loessin at the board meeting. “I have more trust in them as shrewd business people who can withstand a few rejections in expressly preservation neighborhoods, knowing there are a wealth of sites in the downtown which are free of any historic considerations.”

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

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