Rebuilding Sonoma County: New apartments, houses underway in greater Mark West
More than a year after the Tubbs fire destroyed the Estancia Apartments and displaced more than ?100 longtime residents, work is underway to rebuild the Larkfield-Wikiup development, the largest multifamily housing complex in unincorporated Sonoma County lost to the firestorm.
The 5.5-acre Old Redwood Highway development, which originally featured 70 market-rate apartments, is being rebuilt as a 96-unit complex slated to include six affordable units, property owner Brandon Broll said. Apartments could be move-in ready by late 2019, he said.
Sonoma County officials touted the project, expedited through the approval process, as a collaborative effort that led to a greater number of housing units and below market-rate rentals. Broll is a Truckee resident who owns Broll Investments, which acquires and revamps apartment complexes. He said it’s the first multifamily development he’s built from the ground up.
“I was hearing all these firsthand stories and really emotional stories of people who lost everything, and I was going ‘How can I help?’ … I knew one thing I could do was move very fast and try to get as many units in there while still making it aesthetically pleasing,” said Broll, who bought the property in 2012. “It feels good to be able to contribute.”
Renamed the Sonoma Ranch Apartment Homes, the project will include an estimated 40 one-bedroom units, 48 two-bedroom units and eight three-bedroom units, ranging from 720 to 1,293 square feet, Broll said. Monthly rents could span from $2,000 to $3,000, with affordable units renting for about $900 to $1,000. Broll previously accepted more than a dozen housing vouchers, and he plans to accept those Section 8 vouchers on at least six of the new units, he said.
The complex will have new perks - soundproofing, EV chargers and energy-efficient roofing and windows, he said. Sonoma County officials worked closely with Broll on the project, assisting with a transition from septic to sewer service, changing zoning to allow for a larger number of units in exchange for affordable housing and expediting permits and referrals, a county spokeswoman said.
Permit Sonoma Director Tennis Wick said a permit process that could normally could have taken months was reduced to weeks. Without an affordable housing component, design review could have at least a year but was cut to less than four months, spokeswoman Maggie Fleming said.
“These are longtime tenants who lost their homes … hopefully, they can move back into even better homes than they had before,” Wick said. “And the community gets multifamily homes, which it needs.”
Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore said Broll connected with the county soon after the fires, and the project illustrates a constructive “partnership” between a local government and a developer.
“Here we have example of something that’s coming back better,” Gore said. “It’s better for energy, it’s better for groundwater, it’s got more units, so it’s better for housing, and for the first time, it has set-aside units for affordable housing. This is the epitome of rebuilding better.”
Rebuild marks progress
Meanwhile, 17 homes have been completed in the greater Mark West area, extending east to Knights Valley, according to county data. More than 340 homes are under construction in the region, about three quarters of the houses being built in the unincorporated county.
Fairfield-based Silvermark Construction Services, which in June celebrated the completion of the first rebuilt home on Willow Green Place, has finished nine homes in the area, said Vice President of Operations David Hosking. It’s in the process of building 41 homes, he said, the majority rebuild projects for fire victims, with some for-sale lots.
“We have to give kudos to city and county building officials. Normally in that area it would take a year for permitting and they’re working hard to make sure if we have everything in order we get permits within weeks, and that’s unheard of for Santa Rosa,” said founder and CEO Gregory Owen.
Orange County-based Stonefield Development, which has set up an office in Larkfield Center and is undertaking group rebuilds, has poured more than 70 foundations for the 78 homes it’s rebuilding in Mark West Estates, spokeswoman Debbie Dorsee said. Framing is underway on almost 50 of those, with the estimated move in dates set for early 2019, she said. In Larkfield Estates, 16 homes are being built and could be ready for occupancy this spring, she said.
The activity is encouraging for Brad Sherwood, who is tracking the rebuild of his family’s Larkfield Estates home, a project that could be wrapped up by June.
“I’m standing on my own newly poured foundation, and I’m looking around and there are sticks up everywhere,” he said. “At least 50 percent of the neighborhood is in a state of rebuild … neighbors have already moved into their homes and we’ve got people starting to move in the next couple months or before Christmas … It’s a good feeling; there’s a lot of progress.”
Completed utility work
PG&E has finished replacing underground electric and gas utilities destroyed in the fire in the Larkfield and Mark West Estates neighborhoods about two months ahead of schedule, a spokeswoman said. Work to dig four miles of trenches and place about seven miles of electrical lines began in May and wrapped up on Oct. 31, PG&E spokeswoman Deanna Contreras said
“It’s a huge milestone, not just for the neighborhoods, but for rebuilding in general,” she said.
PG&E contract crews are repaving areas of the street impacted by trenching, work that’s excepted to be completed by the end of the year, Contreras said. The utility also is hoping to restore impacted driveways, curbs and gutters in the area by year’s end, she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Hannah Beausang at 707-521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @hannahbeausang.