Santa Rosa meadow up for sale by Sonoma County over neighbors’ objections
At the end of Beverly Way, a small and secluded street in northeastern Santa Rosa, lies the entrance to a grassy meadow beloved by local residents who for decades have wandered through the open field and among the massive oak trees beyond.
Visitors to the Sonoma County-owned land are welcomed by a prominent sign just beyond the street that declares the property part of the Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve, a more than 40-acre swath of land situated south of the former county hospital complex and above the Hillcrest neighborhood near Franklin Park.
But the meadow’s inclusion in a forthcoming county land deal - the sale of 82 acres to a local developer whose plans include hundreds of new housing units - has neighbors alarmed that the county is, perhaps unwittingly, turning over the field to housing construction.
A 16-foot banner recently staked down by Beverly Way neighbors speaks to that concern.
“The county is selling our meadow to an apartment developer,” it proclaims, encouraging like-minded individuals to help prevent “the destruction of our preserve.”
The banner is stretched across a guardrail just in front of the preserve sign which claims the land is protected through a partnership of the county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the county Water Agency, the county itself and the city of Santa Rosa.
The reality, it turns out, is more complex than either sign suggests.
Some residents voiced their concerns in February when the Board of Supervisors voted to move forward with plans to sell the 82 acres north and south of Chanate Road - site of the former Sutter Medical Center and various county health, government and nonprofit offices - to developer Bill Gallaher. His vision for the land includes up to 800 housing units, a grocery store, recreation center, dog park, amphitheater, two miles of trails and 68 acres of open space.
Gallaher’s company could pay as much as $12.5 million in cash for the land, depending on the amount of housing built.
While a conceptual map indicates development could occur on the meadow off Beverly Way, county officials and a representative of Gallaher’s team have stressed those plans are in no way final. After the land is sold by the county - a step expected to happen within the next few months - the project will need to pass through Santa Rosa’s planning process, where it will be subject to extensive review as development plans are fleshed out in detail.
Still, different messages from officials over the years about the property in question and apparently conflicting priorities, in this case between open space preservation and development to ease the area’s housing crunch, have left many with the impression that the fate of the parcel on which the meadow sits, roughly 10 acres, remains in jeopardy.
The land, which borders on Paulin Creek and dozens of acres of forested land, is regarded by residents as a defining attribute of their neighborhood, offering a slice of nature within about 2 miles of downtown Santa Rosa.
When Mark Epstein first stumbled upon the meadow about two and a half years ago, he was so struck by the land’s beauty that he decided to buy a house there. He purchased a home on a corner of Beverly Way in July.
“This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen inside of a city,” Epstein recalled thinking when he first saw the meadow. “I came out here and walked it with my son and my daughter, and we were like, ‘This is an incredible thing.’ I wasn’t even really looking to move until I saw it.”
The meadow and surrounding property connect two swaths of undeveloped, adjoining land: about 9 acres to the west owned by the Open Space District and about 26 acres to the east owned by the Water Agency. Together, the three sections of land form what residents have long known as the Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve.
Neighbors say the preserve was established when the Open Space District bought its 9 acres about 15 years ago. Despite the assurance given by the sign, it appears no formal development restriction, such as a conservation easement, was ever placed on the separate, neighboring meadow owned by the county.
Residents became deeply concerned when they realized that open space was included in the land up for sale, particularly because a map from Gallaher’s proposal suggests multifamily housing could be built on the parcel. A document from a competing proposal submitted last year to the county also envisioned building on the meadow.
However, Komron Shahhosseini, Gallaher’s project manager, cautioned that the map is by no means a firm blueprint of where construction will actually occur, assuming the sale goes through.