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Santa Rosa City Council advances veterans housing project in Roseland area over neighbors’ opposition

The Santa Rosa City Council rejected an appeal by neighbors of a veterans housing project in the Roseland area in a 5-2 vote this week, the latest move by the council to override some residents’ concerns about development in the southwestern part of the city in favor of new housing.

The project at 2149 West Hearn Ave. would provide rooms for 32 homeless veterans.

The neighborhood group that filed the appeal contends the project will harm the environment while degrading the rural character of the surrounding community.

The two council members voting in favor of the appeal were Vice Mayor Eddie Alvarez and Councilwoman Natalie Rogers, who represent southwest Santa Rosa. During Tuesday’s council meeting, they voiced support for local veterans but called for new development plans that take into account neighbors’ concerns.

“Our veterans have been to war. They've been deployed. They've been where people don't want them,” Rogers said. “I don't want them to move into a neighborhood where that is the case. I want them to move into a neighborhood where people are welcoming them with open arms.”

In denying the appeal, the council for now cleared the way for the Hearn Veterans Village, to be built on vacant land on the roughly 3-acre property.

The supportive housing facility is set to include four 6-bedroom homes and four 2-bedroom in-law units at the property, owned by the affordable developer of the project, Community Housing Sonoma County. The developer already manages a 15-bed facility for local homeless veterans seeking drug and alcohol treatment at the site.

The move by the council follows the November approval of a 50-unit affordable housing complex on Stony Point Road in the Roseland area that also came before council members on appeal. Natalie Rogers and Alvarez also voted against that project, citing what they saw as the city’s lack of investment in public infrastructure in their districts in recent years as the council approved new housing in the area.

Over the past eight months, the council has green-lit a number of other controversial projects in southwest Santa Rosa, a less-developed part of the city where residents are predominantly Latino. Those projects included a cannabis dispensary, a long-planned city park and the 175-unit Casa Roseland housing development near the Roseland Village Shopping Center.

Members of West Hearn Ave Residents for Rural Integrity, the group that filed the appeal to halt the veterans village, say they’re prepared to sue to force the city to reconsider the project.

“It just feels like the city is rubber-stamping one project to the detriment of an entire community,” said Lennie Moore, a leader of the group.

The group argues city planning staff failed to adequately review the project’s impacts on nearby Roseland Creek and local wildlife — including a variety of birds and the endangered California tiger salamander — as well as on traffic and noise. It also accuses planning staff of attempting to skirt an agreement between the city and residents that limits the scale of new housing in the neighborhood.

Local residents made similar arguments about environmental impacts in an attempt to halt the long-awaited Roseland Creek Community Park. That project, which the council approved in October, also could face a legal challenge from park advocates whose vision for the city-owned property differs from current plans.

In responding to the veterans village appeal, city staff said the development is exempt from a full environmental review under state law, since it meets the standards set by a 2016 report on the effects of new development in southwest Santa Rosa.

City staff also said the plans, which call for splitting the property into four separate parcels — each with a large house and an in-law unit — meet all zoning requirements the city agreed to when it annexed the Roseland area in 2017. That’s in part because the in-law units, also known as accessory dwelling units, don’t count toward caps on the number of housing units allowed per acre, according to staff.

At the public meeting on Tuesday, some community members said their opposition to the project was primarily due to its size, not because it’s meant to shelter homeless veterans. Others, including local veterans, praised the project’s developer and urged the council to deny the appeal.

“The only way to actually get our homeless veterans off the street is to provide a safe and secure roof over their heads, otherwise it's not going to happen,” said Ross Liscum, a member of Community Housing Sonoma County’s board of directors and a veteran himself.

The most current county homelessness data, taken from a census count in early 2020 prior to the pandemic, found 139 unhoused veterans, down from 210 the year before. The census identified around 2,700 homeless people across the region.

Ultimately, a majority of the council agreed the need to house veterans outweighed neighbors concerns’, even as members acknowledged a lawsuit may be imminent.

“I think that the outcome of this project will largely be dependent on what a judge finds,” said Mayor Chris Rogers.

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian

Ethan Varian

Housing and homelessness, The Press Democrat 

I've lived in California for most of my life, and it's hard for me to remember when the state hasn't been in a housing crisis. Here in Sonoma County, sharply rising housing costs and increasing homelessness are reshaping what was long considered the Bay Area’s “affordable” region. As The Press Democrat’s housing and homelessness reporter, I aim to cover how officials, advocates, developers and residents are reacting to and experiencing the ongoing crisis.

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