Rohnert Park City Council seeks deal on housing proposed on Press Democrat industrial property

In a 4-1 vote, the Rohnert Park City Council directed staff to negotiate a deal for fees or affordable housing units in exchange for rezoning industrial land.|

The Rohnert Park City Council instructed staff Tuesday to negotiate an agreement with a developer seeking to build an apartment complex on industrial property owned by the parent company of The Press Democrat.

In a 4-1 vote, the council overruled city staff, who recommended an outright denial of the proposal to rezone the land for housing. Instead, council members directed staff to work out a deal with a Petaluma developer seeking to buy the property.

Members of the council suggested a portion of the project be dedicated to affordable housing units in exchange for rezoning the 6.5-acre site behind The Press Democrat printing plant, where Advanced Building Solutions hopes to construct an apartment complex with up to 156 units.

“It’s important that wherever we have an opportunity to, at this time, add to the housing stock of apartments, that this is something that we should be considering,” said Councilman Jake Mackenzie. “I think this is also the opportune time for something like this to come in front of us, when we do have a housing crisis in this county.”

City staff, including City Manager Darrin Jenkins and Planning Manager Jeff Beiswenger, urged the council to reject the rezoning application. They argued it would result in potential conflicts between future residents and occupants of the surrounding industrial parcels, and was unnecessary because of the amount of land remaining in the city to meet housing demands.

In April, the city’s Planning Commission unanimously approved plans to rezone the site for high-density residential building. Members of the commission stated that other exceptions have been made to the city’s strict general plan, and given the loss of some 5,300 homes in the county to October’s Tubbs fire, now was as good a time as any to make another one.

Steve Falk, CEO of The Press Democrat and parent company Sonoma Media Investments LLC, contended Tuesday that the area of the city, on the west side of Highway 101, has already evolved into a residential community. The recent construction of the Fiori Estates Apartments and the 84-unit The Reserve complex, which was also built by Advanced Building Solutions just to the south of the newspaper’s printing plant, made concerns of incompatibility a moot point, he said.

“Every project, as you know, has pros and cons,” Falk said of the land deal, at least two years in the making. “This is no exception. What I would ask you tonight is to look at the totality of the situation. Look at the neighborhood, drive the street - it is a residential neighborhood. Please don’t surround (that housing) with a Costco on one side, a sewer treatment plant and a warehouse.”

The council instructed staff to reach an agreement on in-lieu fees to offset potential impacts and replace public benefits from the loss of limited industrial space. Vice Mayor Joe Callinan was the sole vote against the proposal.

“For the last eight years, me and other council members have sat up here and said that (residential) growth on the other side of the freeway should have never happened,” said Callinan. “This is an opportunity for us to stand up and support that, and unfortunately that’s not going to happen tonight. That growth over there - putting residents over there - was a mistake to begin with, and I still think it’s a mistake. I just can’t support this.”

Tuesday’s decision created confusion among the council, city staff and the developer. The city attorney interjected just before the vote was taken to declare that the approval would require the developer to again appear before the council with completed project plans before final rezoning could be granted.

A member of city staff, Mary Grace Pawson, who is Rohnert Park’s director of development services, said after the meeting that she did not take the council’s direction as requiring comprehensive development plans. Rather, she expected to work with the developer to produce “some idea” of the site plan and architectural review for a future council vote to rezone.

The conceptual designs would still need to come before the Planning Commission for a third time, she added, but the council’s charge to her was to expedite the process so it did not significantly hinder the applicant’s timeline.

The council’s decision to allow the developer to continue negotiating the rezone, instead of approving it Tuesday night so Advanced Building Solutions could close on the land this fall, was met with frustration by both company president Chris Scerri and Falk.

Scerri said it would cost him more money to have plans designed without knowing if the property will even be rezoned for housing, and will result in months and months of delays, likely into early 2019.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or at On Twitter @kfixler.

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