Sonoma County supervisors commit to auction sale of Chanate Road property
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.