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Affordable housing project passes in Cloverdale despite concerns

Cloverdale planning commissioners, despite objections from community members concerned about an increase in traffic, voted 3-2 Tuesday night to approve a 75-unit affordable housing project along Asti Road.

Commission Chairman Mike Shanahan and Commissioner Eric Saunders voted no, while commissioners Sandra Hoevertsz, Chad Asay and William Wagy voted yes.

The Alexander Valley Family Apartments, which will be built in a rural area along the Highway 101 frontage road and house low- and very low-income families, has been opposed by neighbors and others who say they fear the highly trafficked area with only partial sidewalks will be unsafe. However, the California Department of Housing and Community Development had sent a letter to the commission reiterating that such projects are bound by state regulations, and design changes requested cannot be financially burdensome.

In response to requests from the commission, developer Pacific West added trees to screen the project from Highway 101, fencing to make it difficult for people to walk out on Railroad Avenue from the apartments to access the Russian River, and put in some high-security lighting and higher-rated windows in some areas.

At the commission’s request, Pacific West also removed a boccie ball court, put in outdoor fitness equipment and added artificial turf. It also added a crosswalk near Lake Street with flashing lights and an audio alert, which was not required.

“Cars coming around the corner are never going to see that crosswalk in time,” said Jennifer Allen, a resident of the nearby Lake Street community. “You’re going to impact our entire neighborhood … It’s a nice project but it’s the wrong location,” she added, echoing several speakers and commissioners.

Many spoke in favor of the project at the last commission meeting on Nov. 2, including Ezequiel Guzman, president of Latinos Unidos, who pointed to the great need for farmworker housing.

However, Shanahan asked Tuesday that people who testified at that hearing not repeat themselves. The lone person to speak for the project this time was Calum Weeks, policy director for Generation Housing, a nonprofit Sonoma County housing advocacy group. He said 129 people had signed a petition in favor of the apartment complex, and “a delay could scuttle the whole project altogether.”

“We strongly encourage the commission to objectively review and pass the project in alignment with your local zoning ordinance,” Weeks told the commission.

The site has been zoned for affordable apartments since 2009 because it is close to the SMART station that is not yet being used. The last cost estimate for the Cloverdale portion of the SMART track was $170 million, and construction from Windsor north has been frozen because of lawsuits filed by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, claiming that increased bridge tolls were an unlawfully approved tax.

Some who testified said children or animals could risk getting run over. Commissioners were urged to lower the speed limit on Asti Road and allow parking along it, since the project was allowed by state law to have fewer parking spaces.

Because of recent changes in state law, the commission could only objectively review certain site design aspects of the project.

The Planning Commission would have only been able to reject the proposed development if there was no way to fix any of the issues community members and commissioners raised about increased traffic and risks to public safety.

In addition, according to staff, opposing or tabling the project, as many members of the public urged the commissioners to do, could leave the city open to a potential lawsuit.

“We need more affordable housing here,” Saunders said. “I agree with everyone about traffic safety, infrastructure and the needs of the city school district. … I think it’s a great project. … but I don’t think putting it on Asti Road or in Cloverdale right now is a good idea in terms of city planning.”

Before voting yes, Commissioner Asay said “the city put the cart before the horse” with a proposal for a project design to take advantage of nearby city transit when there was none.

“I think the city has to do a lot better job to prepare the city for projects like this,” he said, referring to infrastructure such as sidewalks and lighting. “I plan to go to the city council and urge them to do that.”

A person or group could appeal the decision to the Cloverdale City Council, but there is a fee that could add up to $2,000-$3,000, Assistant City Manager Kevin Thompson said.

On Wednesday, farmworker advocate Guzman said he was glad the project passed.

“Between 180 and 240 families line up at the (Redwood) Empire Food Bank every week because they have to think about paying rent before food,” he said. “I know there are some issues … but at least progress is being made to bring in affordable housing.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kathleen Coates at kathleen.coates@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5209.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed a quote to Cloverdale Unified School District trustee Preston Addison. The quote was from Calum Weeks, policy director for Generation Housing, a nonprofit Sonoma County housing advocacy group.

Kathleen Coates

Windsor and Cloverdale, The Press Democrat 

As someone who grew up in a small town, I enjoy covering what's happening in Windsor and Cloverdale, which are growing in their own unique ways.  I delve into issues by getting to know people and finding out what’s going on in the community. I also pay attention to animal welfare and other issues that affect Sonoma County.

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