Santa Rosa design board pans proposed 7-story downtown apartment building
The largest proposed housing project in downtown Santa Rosa came in for heavy criticism Thursday before a city panel of architectural experts, who voiced such serious qualms about its design as to cast doubt on its future — before the developer agreed to try to address their concerns.
The unusually intense online hearing before the city’s Design Review Board called into question the look of a seven-story, $50 million structure that would overlook Old Courthouse Square from the southwestern corner of Third Street and Santa Rosa Avenue.
The four-hour session was a key step for the 120-unit 1 Santa Rosa project, which would rise from a currently vacant three-story building and would be the single largest new housing project in downtown.
The board members raised numerous concerns about its appearance and layout, including the gray exterior many found dull, the choice of a cafe on the ground floor instead of a different type of business or additional housing units, and the absence of on-site parking.
“My first impression of this project is that the applicant had a desire to cram the site full of residential units without providing additional amenities or vibrant options to activate the building at a greater level,” said board member Drew Weigl, a Santa Rosa architect.
Weigl later said he’d never voted no against a project before but would do so if 1 Santa Rosa would have been up for a formal decision instead of Thursday’s preliminary review. Most others on the seven-person board appointed by the City Council detailed substantial issues they had with the project.
1 Santa Rosa was represented by Napa developer Keith Rogal, who is working with longtime property owner Marty Winter, a Marin County real estate investor. Rogal made the case that the 1 Santa Rosa team aimed to be a good neighbor, complementing existing nearby developments while bringing in an influx of tenants they said would infuse life into the downtown.
“We recognize fully that the site at 1 Santa Rosa is important vis a vis the square and the downtown, very important, and we feel challenged by that responsibility,” Rogal said.
His tone changed sharply, however, after the board weighed in with its criticism and recommendations.
“I need to state clearly that while we clearly have differences of taste with members of the board, you do me an unwarranted disservice by asserting that this was a design born out of haste or pure economic pressure or lack of respect for the town,” Rogal said.
Sensing the tension, city supervising planner Bill Rose jumped in from his spot on the sidelines of the virtual meeting.
Rose said he didn’t want to discount the board’s comments or expertise but made a point of noting the “considerable investment” to date on the part of the developers. He asked the design board to put together a list of complaints and suggestions that Rogal and his team could try to address in a bid to allow the project to advance.
Otherwise, Rose said, “we could potentially lose this project.”
Most comments that came from members of the public earlier in the meeting expressed at least a measure of support for the project, even if they had concerns of their own.