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Long-stalled Bodega Bay housing development moves forward

The last of the concrete foundations are being laid for a long-stalled subdivision of 70 new homes in Bodega Bay, reviving a project that marks the first major contribution to the area's housing inventory in several decades while reigniting concerns among some residents about the effect on traffic, water supply and wetlands.

The Harbor View housing development, on a windswept hill overlooking Bodega Bay, is slated for full-scale construction beginning later this year, according to landowner Rich Battaglia, a Newport Beach-based theme park developer with multiple residential holdings statewide.

Initially proposed in the 1980s at a larger scale and approved at its current size in 1994 by the Board of Supervisors, the project had been held up by environmental constraints, several legal challenges and the moribund housing market after the 2008 crash.

Full build-out of the subdivision should take about two years, Battaglia said, depending on the rate at which the completed homes sell.

The 25-acre property is just north of the Inn at the Tides, across Highway 1 from the distinctive pink-and-white-striped building that houses Patrick's Salt Water Taffy.

The single-family homes will range in size from 1,270 to 2,260 square feet. Most will be single-story with heights of 16 feet, though about a dozen along the eastern edge will be two stories.

“We're building exactly what was approved,” Battaglia said.

It has been about 35 years since development of the last big subdivision, the 725-unit Bodega Harbour project on the south end of town.

Though far smaller, Harbor View has the potential to help offset recent declines in the local population, which totaled 1,077 in the 2010 census, a 24 percent decline from a decade earlier. The size of any increase will depend on whether most or all of the homes are used for primary residences.

After numerous delays and false starts by Battaglia and about a half-dozen previous owners of the property, the abrupt resumption of site work late last summer came as a shock to neighbors, who had grown accustomed to inactivity on the vacant hillside.

Reservations about the project's impact on highway congestion, community water supply and adjoining wetlands have been fueled by dispatches in recent weeks by a small group of opponents who have fought development of the site for 25 years.

“It's just wrong. The wrong place,” said Maggie Briare, a stalwart of Bodega Bay Concerned Citizens, which mounted at least three legal challenges aimed at blocking the project in its various forms.

However, there appears to be little wider controversy surrounding the project at this point. Community members have voiced indifference and, in some cases, even welcomed the infusion of new housing and additional taxpayers to support the struggling fire department.

“There's just not a lot of noise about it,” said Diana Bundy, a Bodega Bay artist active in the community.

Bodega Bay Fire Protection District President Liz Martin said the time for debate is past.

“It's a done deal, so I think we're good,” she said.

Rod Moore, president of the Bodega Bay Public Utility District, said the project does not pose a problem for the town's water supply. Those who say otherwise “are trying to stunt the growth in Bodega Bay,” Moore said.

Development plans on the site stirred controversy as far back as the 1980s, and at one point included a proposal for 199 homes of various densities, in addition to commercial buildings. A project of that scale was rejected by county officials.

The county approved a downscaled plan that included 84 residential units in 1994. Then, as now, it included 70 single-family homes and 14 apartment units to fulfill the county's requirement for a portion of the property to be developed as affordable housing.

But the project was plagued by problems and delays, including a lawsuit over the adequacy of its environmental review and a county extension on the building map, developer bankruptcies and changes in ownership.

Battaglia, who bought the project in 2004 and also owns Porto Bodega Marina and RV Park farther north, has stuck with the modest plans the county approved.

Work since the county's project approval has proceeded in fits and starts - sewer and water connections, parcel delineations, road construction - requiring multiple extensions of the county permits. Previous owners built the apartments near the property's southern edge, while Battaglia's people put in a man-made wetland to replace a small piece of wetland lost because of road construction near the highway.

Until last summer, the hillside was mostly wild grasses and brush, divided into parcels along several treeless curving roads.

In August, constructions crews began putting in foundations that must be completed by next month on all 70 sites in order to retain the right to build, said Ali Fartash, Battaglia's general manager.

Once they're finished, Battaglia will finalize a choice of contractors, secure building permits and begin phased construction of the homes.

Sonoma County building and planning staff say the project has remained under close scrutiny and in compliance with the 110 conditions attached to the Board of Supervisors' approval in 1994.

“This is a very sensitive project,” Fartash said. “As far as getting a permit, I don't think anybody can get a permit anymore for those areas. And also because of the history of the project, the county is watching us pretty close to make sure everything is per code, everything is per plan.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249.

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