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Residents offer feedback on rival Roseland Village designs

Scott Johnson of MidPen Housing asked Roseland residents Thursday night to picture themselves as a young person standing in the huge asphalt parking lot in southwest Santa Rosa at Sebastopol Road and West Avenue.

Speaking in English and Spanish, Johnson invited the roughly 150 people gathered in the auditorium of Sheppard Accelerated Elementary School to imagine what a child would like to see at the site, such as places to play and ride a bike, a child care center, a library, a better place to live.

“And you’re thinking, man, this is so cool that my parents can afford this wonderful three-bedroom apartment,” he said. “Because my little sister and I don’t have to share a bedroom like we were.”

In that way, Johnson took Roseland residents on an imaginary tour of the mixed-use development proposed by Foster City-based MidPen for the site where the old Albertsons shopping center once stood.

MidPen’s proposed project features 100 units of permanently affordable housing for families and seniors; 100 units of market-rate housing for “move-up and move-down” tenants; a public plaza that would serve as a hub for the Roseland community; an open-air food market; a small business incubator; a child development center and preschool and a bilingual library.

The proposal was one of three projects that were presented to Roseland residents and community members Thursday. The two other proposals were from Sonoma County-based Burbank Housing Corp. and EAH Housing of San Rafael.

Details of the three preliminary designs were released to the public through the Sonoma County Community Development Commission’s website in mid-June. The meeting Thursday was convened to gather community input about the designs.

Burbank Housing’s proposal features a long plaza and pedestrian connector that links Sebastopol Road with the Joe Rodota Trail, 38,600 square feet of commercial space, 48 rent-restricted homes and 14 single-occupancy homes for extremely low-income, formerly homeless people.

EAH’s plan is centered around a large “plaza zone” that takes up roughly 60 percent of the project’s footprint, which includes most of the empty parking lot that runs from Sebastopol Road to the Joe Rodota Trail. The project also includes 80 units of affordable housing, with the potential for more.

During Thursday’s community meeting, people were given the opportunity to comment on the projects by posing questions to the developers. The audience also was asked to submit specific comments about the proposals by attaching Post-it notes to three large development maps in the back of the school auditorium.

A number of people said they liked the fact that Burbank was a local organization. Others said they liked the mission-style design of the proposed buildings. But others stated that the plaza did “not feel public” or that the project needed more than 62 housing units.

EAH’s project received favorable comments about its plaza, which is the project’s centerpiece. One resident said she liked that it was accessible and open to Sebastopol Road.

One resident suggested that MidPen’s plaza should be made larger and another said the plaza should be adjacent to West Avenue and Sebastopol Road.

That plaza is a central element of the 2007 Sebastopol Road Urban Vision Plan, which came out of extensive community input and envisions a pedestrian-oriented public space with a mix of commercial, office and multifamily housing uses.

But turning that vision into a reality has been slow-going, especially after the elimination of county redevelopment agencies.

Jim Bray, a longtime resident of Ruby Court, off McMinn Avenue, said the project is “a long time coming.” His wife, Anne O’Brien, said, “It’s hard to take it seriously.”

But Bray and O’Brien said they were pleased that “something is going to be done.” They said they liked Burbank’s proposal.

Supervisor Efren Carrillo, whose 5th District includes the Roseland neighborhood, said he knows there’s a level of skepticism, but that the current development process, which will involve community input, is “on the right track.”

“Roseland is a special place and it deserves special attention,” Carrillo said.

Jim Leddy, special projects director for the Community Development Commission, said the feedback gathered during Thursday’s meeting will be incorporated in revamped designs that will be presented at a future community meeting sometime in September.

You can reach Staff Writer ?Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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