Windsor approves Vintage Oaks on the Town Green housing project

It's the biggest housing development to get approval since Windsor incorporated and it will go a long way toward providing badly needed rental housing.|

It’s the biggest housing development to get approval since Windsor incorporated and it will go a long way toward providing badly needed rental housing.

That was the consensus of the Town Council members Wednesday as they voted 4-1 to approve a revised development plan for the 387-unit Vintage Oaks on the Town Green, the once controversial project planned for the site of the former Windsorland mobile home and trailer park.

“This is a great day for Sonoma County,” said Mayor Mark Millan, adding that it will provide new housing choices for both young and old.

“It’s sorely needed,” he said.

“It’s a huge complement to the downtown and the new Bell Village center,” Councilwoman Deb Fudge said in reference to the site it will occupy just to the north of the new Oliver’s Market and shopping center.

She and other council members touted the ability residents will have to walk to the nearby station to ride SMART commuter trains, which Fudge said could be in service in Windsor by the summer of 2018, if grant funding comes through to extend the line beyond its current terminus just north of Santa Rosa.

Developers hope to begin building the first half of Vintage Oaks as early as next month and be ready to rent units out by the summer of 2017, according to project manager Peter Stanley, a principal in Santa Rosa-based ArchiLOGIX.

Southern California developer Bob Bisno said he and his partners expect to spend as much as $135 million to build the combination of apartments and townhomes, which will feature rooftop solar panels and a dozen electric vehicle charging stations initially, with potential to add more.

The project has been seven years in the making since it was first proposed as “Bell Village,” gaining original approval in 2011 before developers decided to redesign it and bring it back to the council for reconsideration.

Located just to the north of the new Oliver’s Market and sandwiched between Highway 101 and Old Redwood Highway, the development’s plan once called for removing 211 trees, including more than three dozen large oaks, a few estimated to be 300 years old.

After an outcry and even a small protest demonstration last year over the number of trees being lost, developers revised the site plan to remove almost 50 fewer trees.

And after feedback from the Town Council, the developers went back to the drawing board and came up with a plan that expands open space and adds a variety of housing.

Prodded by Town Council members who wanted to see more than just three-story townhomes, the number of dwellings - 387 - remained the same but is now split almost evenly between townhomes and “stacked flat” apartments, with most of the apartments served by elevators to better accommodate seniors and disabled persons.

“This is a dramatically better project,” Councilman Dominic Foppoli said Monday.

But Councilman Sam Salmon, the lone dissenting vote, said he was still troubled over the removal of trees and that the original low-income units proposed were dropped.

Developed over two phases, the 387 units will consist of a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments and townhomes. Rents are estimated to range between $2,100 and $3,050 for apartments and between $3,000 and $3,300 for the townhomes.

But 20 percent of the project, or 77 units, will be reserved for moderate-income tenants. The developer also agreed to contribute $1 million in fees toward other affordable projects.

The project is expected to generate almost $250 million in economic activity in Sonoma County in the form of construction activities, and direct, indirect and induced impacts, according to a study commissioned by the developers.

That figure includes project construction, purchase of materials and services and ongoing spending by new residents, according to consultants, the Natelson Dale Group.

During construction, the project is expected to generate more than 1,000 jobs.

To accommodate issues raised by the police and fire departments, the developers added a connecting street to the loop system, making it easier for police vehicles and firetrucks to move through the site, and also made street design adjustments to accommodate Fire Department concerns over how far fire hoses would need to be stretched.

There also are more pedestrian connections to the south, for access to the Town Green.

About six people spoke Wednesday in favor of approving the project with no one from the public speaking against it.

Critics last year raised concerns that the apartment project has too many units. Combined with another proposed development - Windsor Mill - the two projects would add almost 800 rental dwellings to downtown Windsor, increasing traffic and potentially altering the character of a town defined mostly by owner-occupied, single-family homes.

The developers and their supporters countered that Vintage Oaks is exactly the type of higher density housing specified in Windsor’s general plan, on an infill site close to a train depot, within walking distance of parks, schools, shopping and restaurants.

They said the project will help alleviate the housing crisis facing Sonoma County, where those looking for apartments face stiff competition for few available units.

The developers made their pitch in a 15-page brochure that was mailed last summer to registered voters in more than 7,000 Windsor households.

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