A year after large apartment project is approved in Windsor, nothing is built

More than a year after Windsor’s biggest apartment project was approved, construction hasn’t started.|

Windsor Mayor Debora Fudge keeps a personal list of people who want to move into the Vintage Oaks on the Green rental apartment project.

“They contact me, and say ‘Do you know when it will open?’?” she said.

To Fudge, the seven or eight people on her waiting list demonstrate the need and desirability of conveniently located apartments in a tight Sonoma County market with scant vacancies.

“When people come up to council members and ask to start a waiting list for housing, there is a demand,” she said.

And developers of the project say 70 people have expressed an interest in reserving one of the proposed 387 apartments through their website vintageoakswindsor.com.

But more than a year after the project’s approval and the clearing of more than 150 oak trees to make way for the new dwellings, there are no signs of construction activity on the site just north of the new Oliver’s Market.

Both the developer and town say it’s only a matter of time before it gets built.

Developer Bob Bisno predicted this week construction will start in the fall and the first units could be completed and ready to move into by around March 2019, “assuming we don’t get an El Niño and there’s a normal weather pattern” during the work.

Fudge also expressed confidence, saying “this company has a record of completing projects and managing them well.”

Windsor, the fourth-largest city in Sonoma County, is a largely bedroom community with fewer apartments per capita than its larger neighbors to the south - Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Rohnert Park.

Vintage Oaks on the Green is seen not only as a way to meet strong demand for multifamily rental units, but it also fits the town’s vision to create new high-density development downtown close to mass transit and within walking distance of shops, restaurants, parks and schools.

The project, planned on the site of the old Windsorland Mobile Home Park, first gained approval in 2011 when it was known as Bell Village, proposed by developer Bill Gallaher.

But Bisno and his Southern California-based partners negotiated an option to buy the property from Gallaher and redesign the project with a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments and townhomes.

When the Town Council gave the revised project the green light last year, it was described as the biggest housing development to obtain approval since Windsor incorporated a quarter-century ago.

Since the May 2016 approval snags have stalled the $140-million-plus development, including a lawsuit filed in September involving a dispute between Bisno and Gallaher over when payment was due for the purchase of the 18-acre site owned by Gallaher’s company, Bell Village limited partnership.

Bisno filed the action against Gallaher, who developed the adjacent commercial property containing Oliver’s, claiming Gallaher was violating the $21 million purchase agreement by insisting payment was due six months earlier than the previously agreed close of escrow deadline of March 2017.

The two developers negotiated a settlement and the lawsuit was dropped in April.

Bisno acknowledged the lawsuit delayed the financing to build Vintage Oaks on the Green because lenders are wary of a project mired in litigation.

But he and his partners, Dan Palmer and Cary Bren, have “relationships with extremely deep-pocketed individuals,” and financing will not be an issue, even though construction costs have escalated along with the improved economy.

Bisno said he has yet to obtain the building permits for Vintage Oaks because of the routine back and forth involved in reviewing schematic drawings that get into fine grain details such as how balconies are attached, lighting placement and the location of storm drains and fire hydrants.

Another factor delaying the issuance of building permits is Bisno’s request that he no longer be required to set aside 77 units for 10 years for moderate-income people, defined as those making up to 120 percent of the area median income.

Instead, Bisno is offering to pay $750,000 of “in lieu” fees toward the creation of affordable housing elsewhere in town, on top of the $1.1 million in such fees his company has already given to Windsor.

Bisno argues the rents allowed for government-defined moderate-rate-income families can sometimes be higher than market rate and don’t do much to provide lower-income residents the opportunity to live in Windsor.

His request is tentatively scheduled to be heard by the Town Council July 19, but Bisno said it is not a deal breaker, even if the council turns him down.

The principal of Bisno Development Co. in West Hollywood, Bisno has been a developer for 40 years, with more than 85 commercial or residential projects in 40 cities and towns.

Cary Bren’s father, Donald, chairman of the Orange County-based real estate investment giant, the Irvine Co., is ranked the 69th-wealthiest man in the world by Forbes, with a net worth of more than $15 billion. Cary Bren also is partners with his brother-in-law, Palmer, in an Irvine-based real estate and investment firm that has developed more than 5,000 apartments, according to the Bren Palmer LLC website.

Bisno and his partners are also proposing a 360-unit apartment project dubbed Mill Creek, formerly known as Windsor Mill and located off Bell Road, adjacent to downtown, just east of the railroad tracks.

It is scheduled for a review by the Planning Commission on June 27.

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