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Rohnert Park revises decade-old SOMO Village development plan

Climate change prioritized

The five-member Rohnert Park City Council on Tuesday gave its unanimous support for prioritizing climate change in the update to the city’s general plan, which will direct land-use decisions and development for the next two decades. The matter became a hot-button issue ahead of the November election, when former Mayor Joe Callinan rejected the idea, leading the item to being held over for the new council. Callinan later lost in a head-to-head council race with Gerard Giudice, who backed the climate change element of the city’s guiding document.

City staff estimated the cost of updating the general plan with a focus on climate change at as much as $50,000.

The Rohnert Park City Council approved a developer’s plan to trim back the number of homes and slash the amount of commercial space in a large-scale project that has sat unbuilt for a decade in the city’s expanding southeastern corner.

The council voted 4-0 to approve the revamped development plan that envisions more than 1,700 homes, along with 38 acres of open space and more than 120,000 square feet of retail and office space at the Sonoma Mountain Village complex.

The prior proposal, languishing since the city council approved it in 2010, featured 200 more homes and less acreage devoted to public parklands, but nearly eight times the amount of commercial space.

“I was hoping we’d be well underway by now. It’s been a long run,” Brad Baker, chief executive officer of developer SOMO Village, told the council at its virtual meeting Tuesday. “But this is a really the dream that I’ve been carrying for the last 15 years. I put so much into it that it’s really become part of me.”

Baker said dips in the economy, among other hurdles, are to blame for the unbuilt residential component of the project, located on the 175-acre former Agilent Technologies campus.

The new plan maintains reuse of 700,000 square feet of existing buildings, which currently house a mix of tenants, including restaurants, nonprofits and auxiliary offices for nearby Sonoma State University.

Mayor Gerard Giudice, who is co-owner and operator of Sally Tomatoes restaurant and the Heirloom Cafe located in SOMO Village’s existing commercial space, recused himself from the discussion and the vote.

The updated proposal also seeks to provide sufficient environmental mitigations for the threatened California tiger salamander, as state law requires on development projects. Future items tied to the phased development, which will include single-family homes, condos, 50-plus accessory dwelling units and more than 250 affordable townhomes and apartments, will come back before the City Council over the next two months.

None of the eight neighboring residents who submitted comments during the public comment portion of the meeting supported approval of the massive project, with some saying the developer has been derelict in upkeep of the property, including growing problems with rats and road and sidewalk repairs.

“It is impossible for me to conceive that the city of Rohnert Park would consider such a huge project and number of residences. We simply don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate this many new homes,” resident Deborah Stratton said in written comments submitted to the council. “All this new development will make RP even more crowded, less maintained and noisier. Fix what we have already here.”

Councilwoman Pam Stafford, the council’s longest-serving member and the only council member who voted on the original project in 2010, rebuffed the criticisms. She said the changes were minor and actually reduce the impacts to the area by approving even fewer homes and retail space at the site.

“I’m sorry people feel that way, but, as they heard tonight, this project has been in place for 15 years. We’re just changing the plan slightly, and, personally, I’m happy to see the commercial isn’t going to be as big as it was planned,” Stafford said last week. “We have to build housing in our communities. We are mandated by law to build. So I have no issues.”

Added City Manager Darrin Jenkins: “The time to kind of decide whether and what this property would be used for was 10 years ago. If those changes aren’t approved, then they have permission to build a much, much larger project, with much greater traffic impacts.”

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

Climate change prioritized

The five-member Rohnert Park City Council on Tuesday gave its unanimous support for prioritizing climate change in the update to the city’s general plan, which will direct land-use decisions and development for the next two decades. The matter became a hot-button issue ahead of the November election, when former Mayor Joe Callinan rejected the idea, leading the item to being held over for the new council. Callinan later lost in a head-to-head council race with Gerard Giudice, who backed the climate change element of the city’s guiding document.

City staff estimated the cost of updating the general plan with a focus on climate change at as much as $50,000.

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