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Plan unveiled for seven-story apartment building in downtown Santa Rosa

For decades Santa Rosa has sought to attract dense, higher-rise housing to its downtown, and it may have its largest project yet in a new plan to transform a long-vacant office building into a seven-story tower with more than 100 apartments overlooking Old Courthouse Square.

1 Santa Rosa, named after its address on Santa Rosa Avenue at the corner of Third Street, would create 120 mostly market-rate apartments steps away from the buses that run through the downtown transit mall and within walking distance of the Railroad Square rail station.

The roughly $50 million project’s walk-or-bike-first mentality is underscored by the absence of on-site parking. Instead, a proposed 90-space parking agreement would allow residents to leave their vehicles in a nearby city-owned garage.

“There’s a window of opportunity to put in housing,” said Marty Winter, a Marin County resident and investor with property across the Bay Area who has owned the site for decades.

“I know that Sonoma County is in dire need of housing, what with the fires, etcetera,” Winter said. “The need has been there, but now the county and the city is addressing that need. ... I sense that the city is very much looking forward to new housing.”

The proposal envisions a ground-floor cafe, courtyard space for residents and a rooftop bar.

Its design intends to create an “interesting pedestrian-level experience,” according to documents filed with the city.

Plans call for the top five floors to be built by modular construction, in which prefabricated units are stacked to create a single structure.

The focus on housing at the site has been consistent as other elements such as height, layout and parking arrangements have evolved in the conceptual phase, said David Guhin, an assistant city manager focused on planning and economic development.

Of the various potential redevelopments on the property over the years, this project has materialized with the greatest detail to date, he said.

“This is the first developer that’s worked with the owner, has a plan, something that’s been put together and made it this far,” Guhin said. “This really is probably the most viable that we’ve seen.”

Winter, a former mayor of Belvedere in Marin County, is working with developer Keith Rogal of Napa, the founder of what is now the Carneros Resort and Spa in Napa and developer of a long-running project at the former Napa Pipe site.

Dan Hirsch, an investment firm consultant who owns a home in Sebastopol, and Jack Robertson of San Rafael-based Tableau Development Co., also are involved in the 1 Santa Rosa development.

Working in Santa Rosa is a welcome change of scenery for Rogal, who credited Guhin and city planners for their efforts to create a developer-friendly environment downtown. He also noted working on a vacant building in Santa Rosa’s core offered an opportunity to add housing without displacing any tenants.

“You would just end up with a better and more interesting city, and city leadership was really standing out as exceptional across the whole state in terms of their focus trying to make that happen in a healthy way,” Rogal said.

Rogal said the project’s “all-in” cost is estimated to be just shy of $50 million and noted that the rent in the upscale building would be dictated by market forces. After the planning process and more than a year of construction, the new building is estimated to be complete in fall 2022, he said.

The project, which includes a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, is set for a preliminary review hearing May 21 before the city’s Design Review Board and will need approval from the city’s zoning administrator before submitting for building permits. The city plans to host a virtual public meeting around the time of the design review hearing, with exact time and date still being worked out.

City codes that give special treatment to downtown residential developments to speed housing production - passed by the City Council after the 2017 wildfires - will decrease the permitting requirements for the project, as will a 2019 council decision that slashed affordability requirements. As a result, only four of the apartments in 1 Santa Rosa (about 3%) will be restricted based on income.

“It’s to try to cut that time down considerably and offer more certainty,” Guhin said of the city’s regulatory efforts.

1 Santa Rosa is the first major residential housing project to come forward in downtown Santa Rosa since 420 Mendocino Ave., a proposed residential tower a few blocks north of the square proposed in 2018 that is still seeking funding and permit approval from the city. As a dense, tall housing structure near transit without parking, it’s also the type of project city officials have been trying to coax developers to build with increasing intensity in the past several years.

“It hits that mark,” Guhin said.

The property’s previous tenants include Charles Schwab, National Bank of the Redwoods and Western Pacific Mortgage Inc. Leasing space in the building in the years since the past recession didn’t pencil out, Winter said.

“For me, it made more sense to leave it vacant than to lease it out at a loss, so we mothballed it,” he said

The partnership between Winter, Rogal and Hirsch came together about 18 months ago with the help of Keegan & Coppin, the large North Bay Bay real estate brokerage, and the team is key to the project moving forward at this point in time, Winter said, noting that he “spent a lot of time and a lot of money” trying unsuccessfully to develop the site himself before.

Rogal noted that the creation of opportunity zones in the recent federal tax reform law, which offers substantial tax benefits to developers in certain census tracts like downtown Santa Rosa, also played a factor in the timing of the development.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify the status of the 420 Mendocino Ave. project.

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