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Sonoma County supervisors commit to auction sale of Chanate Road property

5 things to know about the Chanate Road campus

1. Totaling nearly 72 acres in northeast Santa Rosa, the property stretches on both sides of Chanate Road and Cobblestone Drive, east of Mendocino Avenue.

2. The property is home to the now abandoned Sutter Health (and former community) hospital complex, the county morgue and coroner’s office, the public health lab and the Bird Rescue Center of Sonoma County, a nonprofit.

3. The Rogers Creek Fault runs under the area.

4. The county has attempted to sell the property five times since 2017.

5. If the property sells, oversight of any future project will fall to the city of Santa Rosa.

After years of failed attempts to sell its mostly vacant former hospital complex on Chanate Road, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors has agreed to auction off the property in a renewed effort to unload the northeast Santa Rosa site.

After minimal discussion Tuesday, supervisors voted 5-0 to sell the nearly 72-acre campus via Ten-X, an online real estate auction platform.

The decision launches the fifth and perhaps final attempt in a string of disputed or unrealized sales that stretch back to the board’s 2015 vote authorizing the largest disposition of county-owned land in a generation.

Vandalism, rising maintenance costs, a bruising court battle and the specter of the Rogers Creek fault running under the property have all clouded the property’s fate.

It’s now up for grabs in two rounds of bidding set to begin next Tuesday and end in early November. A successful sale to the highest bidder would pass the burden of oversight — and a thorny land-use dispute that has roiled the Chanate neighborhood especially — to the city of Santa Rosa and its elected leaders.

City officials were not included by the county in discussions about plans to pursue an auction sale. That sale will require no advance disclosure from bidders about what they intend to do with the site, one long eyed by both county and city officials for new housing.

“I’m not working under the assumption that we’re just going to get some sort of raw deal,” said Santa Rosa Councilwoman Victoria Fleming, whose district includes the Chanate campus.

She acknowledged the county’s priority was to rid itself of the property while the stakes for the city and neighbors will be more permanent.

“The city has different interests than the county in this regard,” she said.

Redevelopment of the site has been floated since Sutter Health announced more than 15 years ago it would be relocate to the Mark West Springs Road hospital it opened in 2014.

The county’s initial, 2017 sale of Chanate property to developer Bill Gallaher was sunk by a lawsuit from neighbors, while subsequent negotiations with other developers failed.

Neighbors who sued over Gallaher’s purchase deal, valued at up to $11.5 million, raised concerns over the density of housing and retail, increased traffic and the impact on a narrow and wooded evacuation corridor. The hilly Chanate property sits east of Mendocino Avenue on the edge of the Hidden Valley area.

Gallaher’s proposal called for up to 870 housing units, including senior and affordable units, as well as amenities including a grocery store, amphitheater and dog park.

“The first offer was for a pretty high-density construction in that area, lots of homes,” said neighbor Kenneth Howe, 81. “All the community around it said ‘Hey, that’s just not going to work.’”

Neighbors prevailed in their 2017 lawsuit that faulted the county for not conducting an environmental study of the impacts of the housing development.

The county subsequently dropped any mandate that the property be developed expressly for housing. It has placed even fewer conditions on the auction sale.

Supervisor Chris Coursey took pains Tuesday to soften that distinction while touting the expediency of an auction sale.

“This attempt at a sale is not much different from what has been done in the past,” said Coursey, the former Santa Rosa mayor. Last year, he ousted former Supervisor Shirlee Zane in a race that centered partly on her record supporting the Chanate sale.

Though the county has offered up the property previously for competitive bidding, the auction will differ in key ways: Bidders will not have to share their plans for the site, and the Board of Supervisors will know only the dollar amount of their offer and identity.

Supervisors will able to accept the highest bid or reject all bids.

There are no guarantees the sale will result in new housing.

Interested buyers can bid on the property from Tuesday to Nov. 9, when the county will open sealed bids and hold a virtual public hearing to call for further bids. The board will then vote to accept the highest bidder or reject all bidders on Nov. 16.

The campus is also home to the county morgue, the public health lab, the Bird Rescue Center of Sonoma County and other offices.

Some acreage belonging to Sonoma Water or eyed by the county’s open space district, including about 10 acres near Beverly Way, will not be part of the sale.

“It is actively being worked on for a conservation easement right now,” Coursey said.

Regardless of how the county offloads the property, the city’s looming burden remains the same, city leaders said Tuesday.

5 things to know about the Chanate Road campus

1. Totaling nearly 72 acres in northeast Santa Rosa, the property stretches on both sides of Chanate Road and Cobblestone Drive, east of Mendocino Avenue.

2. The property is home to the now abandoned Sutter Health (and former community) hospital complex, the county morgue and coroner’s office, the public health lab and the Bird Rescue Center of Sonoma County, a nonprofit.

3. The Rogers Creek Fault runs under the area.

4. The county has attempted to sell the property five times since 2017.

5. If the property sells, oversight of any future project will fall to the city of Santa Rosa.

“Whether the county sells the property, auctions the property, gives the property away, it really doesn’t matter to the city of Santa Rosa,” said Mayor Chris Rogers. “Our involvement starts when someone submits plans.”

Based off his conversations with neighbors, Howe said residents do not seem particularly bothered the county has chosen to auction off the property.

Neighbors’ are concerned, however, about what development proposal comes after any sale, Howe said.

The sticking points remain the same, he said: project density, traffic and emergency evacuation plans.

“They want something up there that is — I call it reasonable,” Howe said. “Good for the neighborhood as well as the city.”

Residents are awaiting the results of the county’s recent seismic study, incorporating more specific mapping of the Rodgers Creek Fault and its relation to the property.

The study’s findings, as well as an updated appraisal and other materials will be available for bidders and the public starting on Tuesday.

Howe voiced confidence in the city’s ability to oversee any development project.

Fleming said she plans to hold several town halls for residents to weigh in and will be “advocating fiercely” for a project that is fire safe and meets community needs.

The shuttered former community hospital complex has been a target for vandals and squatters, forcing the county to shell out $768,000 between July 2018 and June 2019 alone for security and maintenance.

Any future housing development on the property, based on its size and and past proposals, could stand among the largest projects in Santa Rosa in decades.

After years of tepid housing growth and the loss of more than 3,000 homes in the city to the 2017 Tubbs fire, and another 30 or so in the Glass fire last year, Santa Rosa’s lineup of housing projects is now packed.

“Our staff is working really hard and have a lot on their plate,” Rogers said, noting the nearly 700 new apartment units proposed for downtown Santa Rosa alone. “So this would be another project that they’re evaluating.”

Howe said he supports repurposing the Chanate property but observed that any approved, completed project is a long ways away.

“If the auction does produce a buyer it’s going to be many more years after that,” he said. “So there’s not going to be an instant answer to this Chanate property. So we all have to be patient.”

You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or emma.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.

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