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New affordable housing begins to take shape on former Journey’s End site, marking post-Tubbs fire milestone

The project at a glance

A 13.3-acre property in north Santa Rosa that once housed the former Journey’s End mobile home park will be transformed into a mixed-income development with 422 rental apartments.

Senior apartments: Construction is underway on 162 apartments for low-income seniors. The project will include a community room with a kitchen and theater and a garden for residents. Work is expected to be completed in fall 2023.

Market-rate homes: A developer is proposing to build 260 one- and two-bedroom market-rate apartments spread across 13 three-story buildings. That’s about 100 fewer apartments than originally planned when developers submitted plans to Santa Rosa in 2020. The apartments will wrap around a clubhouse with a fitness center and pool and developers plan to build a 1-acre park fronting Mendocino Avenue. Construction is slated to start in early 2023 and be completed in the first quarter of 2025.

The long-awaited redevelopment of the former Journey’s End mobile home park has reached a milestone as dozens of new affordable apartments take shape and with a new partner on board to build the market-rate units that will round out the 13.3-acre property.

A large static crane towered above Tuesday as construction workers hammered together framing — a busy background for housing officials who were on hand to celebrate the rebirth of the site during a tour and ceremony.

The affordable apartments, together with the market-rate units, will total more than 400 new homes, representing the largest single redevelopment in Santa Rosa related to the 2017 Tubbs fire, which destroyed more than 3,000 homes in the city.

“This is actually really surreal,” said Larry Florin, CEO of Santa Rosa-based Burbank Housing, one of the developers behind the project. “I can’t tell you how many times in my mind I’ve thought about this moment.”

Once completed, the project on Mendocino Avenue will add about 420 new rental apartments, including 162 affordable units for the area’s lowest earners and 260 market-rate homes.

It will replace Journey’s End, which was mostly leveled by the 2017 Tubbs fire. Two park residents died in the fire as it burned over the hills in northeast Santa Rosa and across Highway 101. Of the park’s 161 homes, 117 were destroyed. Those left standing were deemed uninhabitable because the park’s utility system was too badly damaged.

A group of developers came together after the fire and worked with the property owner to figure out how to redevelop the site but the property has remained vacant as thousands of homes have gone up in fire-ravaged areas over the past four years.

“To physically see work start is a game changer,” Florin told The Press Democrat after the event.

Project expected to be completed in 2025

Infrastructure work to install a new sewer main and water connections started in December.

Construction on the first phase of the senior apartments, which includes 94 units and a community room with a kitchen and theater for residents, is ongoing. Work on this phase is expected to wrap up next May.

A second phase will include the remaining 38 units and will be completed in fall 2023.

Construction of the affordable apartments, a joint venture between Burbank and San Francisco-based Related California, is expected to cost about $73 million, said Nicholas Wilder, project manager with Related. The project is being paid for through a mix of low-income housing tax credits, federal grants and loans.

The affordable apartments will be open to seniors 55 and older with a household income between 30% and 60% of the area median income, which is between $28,530 and $57,060 annually for a two-person household.

Displaced Journey’s End residents who wish to return will be prioritized in leasing and about 25 to 30 residents have expressed interest, said Karen Massey, a Burbank Housing project manager overseeing the redevelopment.

Across a new public street named Renaissance Way that will cut through the 13-acre project, overgrown weeds and cracked pavement will transform into 260 market-rate apartments — about 100 fewer units than originally proposed when the Santa Rosa City Council signed off on plans in late 2020.

The new market-rate developer, a subsidiary of housing giant Lennar, has proposed smaller-scale, garden-style apartments wrapped around a clubhouse with a pool. A 1-acre park fronting Mendocino also is planned.

The company joined the project last year after the initial investor group heading the market-rate development dropped out in 2020.

The development will get one of its first public looks before the city’s Design Review Board on Thursday afternoon and construction is expected to be completed in early 2025, said Jesse Herzog, division president for Northern California with Lennar Multifamily Communities.

Herzog said construction costs are still being finalized.

“We are happy to have the opportunity to collaborate with Related and Burbank and create a community of high-quality housing for a range of income and people on a site that unfortunately was subject to the tragic fire,” Herzog said. “We think it’s truly an opportunity for a renaissance.”

‘Absolutely worth it’

On Tuesday, before walking through the construction site with dozens of government officials and community members, Florin recounted visiting the property with Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore two days after the fire tore through the mobile home park.

The ground was still smoldering, and a metal ball the size of his hand was all that was left of a car, he recalled.

The Tubbs fire was one of six major blazes that burned across the North Bay in 2017, killing 40 people and destroying nearly 8,500 structures. In Journey’s End, residents Linda Tunis, 69, and 71-year-old Marilyn Carol Ress died as flames swept through their homes.

Florin and his team reached out to the property owner to see how Burbank could help with rebuilding efforts, he said. The idea for a master-planned mixed-income development on the site sprouted from those early conversations.

He said the project is the result of a community coming together and he thanked state and federal partners, such as Rep. Mike Thompson, who helped secure necessary funding to make the project a reality.

“It was just a very, very tragic time for all of us and for our community and everyone knew we had to step up and we had to make sure that we dealt with the issues going forward,” said Thompson, a Democrat from St. Helena who spearheaded legislation that secured $1 billion in tax credits for affordable housing in disaster areas, including the Journey’s End site.

“The idea of working collectively and to be able to position Burbank to come in and do this great project is what they call in the trade a no-brainer,” he said in his remarks.

Ann Silverberg, CEO of Related’s affordable housing division in Northern California, said she was thrilled to see the project get off the ground.

“We knew it was going to be a very, very long road, or journey I should say, but we knew it was worth it and it has been absolutely worth it,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or paulina.pineda@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

The project at a glance

A 13.3-acre property in north Santa Rosa that once housed the former Journey’s End mobile home park will be transformed into a mixed-income development with 422 rental apartments.

Senior apartments: Construction is underway on 162 apartments for low-income seniors. The project will include a community room with a kitchen and theater and a garden for residents. Work is expected to be completed in fall 2023.

Market-rate homes: A developer is proposing to build 260 one- and two-bedroom market-rate apartments spread across 13 three-story buildings. That’s about 100 fewer apartments than originally planned when developers submitted plans to Santa Rosa in 2020. The apartments will wrap around a clubhouse with a fitness center and pool and developers plan to build a 1-acre park fronting Mendocino Avenue. Construction is slated to start in early 2023 and be completed in the first quarter of 2025.

Paulina Pineda

Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park city reporter

Decisions made by local elected officials have some of the biggest day-to-day impacts on residents, from funding investments in roads and water infrastructure to setting policies to address housing needs and homelessness. As a city reporter, I want to track those decisions and how they affect the community while also highlighting areas that are being neglected or can be improved.

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