Deal reached to protect Santa Rosa meadow in sale of Chanate hospital property
An undeveloped Santa Rosa meadow long regarded as open space but included among some 82 acres Sonoma County wants to sell to a housing developer would be officially preserved under a multi million-dollar real estate deal that could be approved starting in less than two weeks.
The Board of Supervisors is set to cast its first vote June 20 on an agreement to sell the sprawling site of the county’s old Chanate Road hospital complex to a team led by Santa Rosa-based developer Bill Gallaher, who envisions building a mixed-use community with as many as 800 rental units, plus veterans housing and a variety of community amenities.
That agreement, if finalized, would require Gallaher’s team to secure a conservation easement for a 10-acre parcel that includes the oak-shaded meadow at the end of Beverly Way. An easement would ensure the parcel is not paved over after the county sells the site, an outcome neighbors feared when they realized four months ago that the meadow was included in the sale even though it has been marked for years by a sign declaring it part of the Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve.
Gallaher’s team originally wanted to determine the future of the meadow after the county finalized the sale and the project passed through Santa Rosa’s planning process. But Komron Shahhosseini, Gallaher’s project manager, said he was comfortable with the requirement the meadow be preserved.
“We’re just happy that there is a resolution,” Shahhosseini said.
Easement drops price
Because of the conservation easement, the maximum sale price anticipated by the county is now $11.5 million, down $1 million from when supervisors agreed earlier this year to enter into exclusive negotiations with Gallaher.
An appraisal put the value of the land at about $13.3 million, without any entitlements, according to the county.
County officials said they believe the deal is worth as much as six times the maximum cash amount to the county when considering the value of the affordable housing planned for the site and the costs the county will avoid by selling the land, among other factors.
The required easement is a product of lobbying by neighbors, who launched an intense campaign to protect the Beverly Way meadow from development, consulting an attorney, filing extensive requests for public records and distributing signs to supporters around the community, among other efforts.
Mark Epstein, a Beverly Way homeowner who was at the forefront of that campaign, said he would rather have seen the county hold onto the meadow parcel, but he was happy to hear about the conservation easement.
“The county is trying,” Epstein said. “We can tell that they’re trying to balance various interests, and we get that they’re doing what they can to make it work for everybody. But there definitely is a lot of information to be fleshed out over time.”
Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the board chairwoman, said last month that she would find a way to make sure the meadow parcel was protected, reversing her previous position that the matter would be handled by Santa Rosa after the county sold the land.
Zane, whose district includes the hospital complex site, reiterated Wednesday her belief that county staff members failed to properly educate supervisors about the history of the meadow parcel.
But she was also sympathetic to the fact that, during the two and a half years the county has been working actively toward a sale of the site, it has seen turnover in some of its most senior staff members, including the county administrator and the general services director.
“In a deal this size, there were some things that might have gotten missed, and that was one of them,” Zane said of the meadow parcel. “We didn’t get fully informed, otherwise we would have handled it differently. But I will say, to give (staff) credit, that I think they have worked really hard.”
20 percent affordable units
Under the terms of the agreement supervisors will consider later this month, Gallaher would pay a minimum of $6 million in cash for the land, planning to build at least 400 units on the site.
He would pay $13,800 for each additional unit beyond 400 approved by Santa Rosa, resulting in the total maximum envisioned price of $11.5 million. Previously, the county had anticipated the price for each additional unit would be $15,000, but the figure was discounted to reflect the removal of the 10-acre meadow parcel from potential development.
Yet county officials say the real price tag is far higher. Including the cost of the affordable housing Gallaher plans to build - which the county sees as providing a public benefit - and the money the county will save by avoiding on-site maintenance and demolition costs, among other considerations, the total value of the deal rises to a minimum of about $42.4 million and a maximum of $71.9 million, officials said.