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Neighbors cite concerns about Santa Rosa homeless shelter project

Neighbors who would be directly affected by redevelopment of a downtown Santa Rosa city block eyed for construction of low-income housing and new homeless services outlined a litany of misgivings about the ambitious project Wednesday night, starting with its sheer size.

Weighing in publicly for the first time, and often divided in their opinions, several residents of the St. Rose and West End neighborhoods told a city planner that the 137 new apartment units and 52-family shelter envisioned for the site could overwhelm the area with traffic and unmet parking needs, and, they fear, unwanted loitering.

Some complained that two multistory structures proposed for low-income housing were out of character with the neighborhood, while others criticized plans to raze four historic homes to make room for them on property that is part of the St. Rose Historic District - the first approved by the city.

“You’re disrespecting us totally by saying that you’re going to tear down some of these homes,” said Tenth Street resident Denise Hill, a representative of the St. Rose Neighborhood Association who has researched the structures’ links to the city’s early Italian community.

But many in an audience of about 50 people in a meeting room of the city’s Office of Community Engagement lent enthusiastic support to the proposed “Caritas Village” envisioned by Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa and its partner in the venture, nonprofit Burbank Housing, given the lack of affordable housing and the city’s disproportionately large homeless population.

One woman, Betsy Hall, cited the “ugly, horrible parking structures” that serve the adjacent Santa Rosa Plaza shopping center, and the equally unattractive Highway 101 passing through downtown, and suggested the new project could change the landscape and fulfill an important community need.

“I am a supporter of not only this project, but the size and scope of it,” Hall said. “And that’s from somebody that lives four doors down. I think we can be a model in the nation.”

Catholic Charities, which operates its Family Support Center out of the century-old Santa Rosa General Hospital on A Street, owns most of the property at issue, located between A and Morgan streets and Sixth and Seventh streets near the Santa Rosa Plaza shopping mall. Only the southwest corner, which has two private houses on it, is excluded from its holdings.

The agency, Sonoma County’s largest provider of services to the homeless, hopes to replace its small, aged building with a shelter that can accommodate 52 families and provide an expanded service center for homeless individuals with case management, housing navigation and other resources to help raise clients out of homelessness and poverty, said Jennielynn Homes, director of shelter and housing for the agency.?The facilities would be integrated with two apartment buildings to be built and managed by Burbank Housing - one contemplated with 48 units and the other 91. Portions of each building toward the southern end of the property would be four stories high, dropping to two stories with outward facing stoops on the edges interfacing with residential neighbors, spokesman Mark Krug said.

The project would be designed throughout to reflect the flavor of the surrounding neighborhood, with courtyards and walkways inside the overall development to enhance privacy for clients.

On-site security would be vastly improved, with round-the-clock staffing, Holmes said.

She acknowledged still-unanswered questions and months of city review and public input ahead, and said she hoped to work with neighbors to ensure community satisfaction and ownership with the final result.

“Without Caritas Village, we’re still going to be there continuing services, but we’re going to be held back” because of physical limitations, she said. “We’ve kind of hit a plateau.”

But Matthew Reid, who lives across Seventh Street from the site, stood “in strong opposition of the size and the scope of the project.”

Some spoke of existing problems they attribute to unhoused people drawn to the neighborhood by Catholic Charities’ drop-in center on Morgan Street. Others said they dreaded more traffic on streets where left turns and speeding already are problematic.

The potential exists “to really, dramatically change the feel of a historic neighborhood,” said Katie Hodges, who lives with two small children and dogs at Sixth and Morgan streets.

Said Hill, “Once permission is given to tear down those buildings, no historic district is safe.”

More information on the project is available at buildcaritasvillage.org.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Betsy Hall.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter ?@MaryCallahanB.

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