A subtle struggle is underway in southeast Santa Rosa between providing housing and preserving open space, and the pressure to provide housing appears to have the upper hand.
The latest design for a 57-acre greenway running on Caltrans right-of-way from Farmers Lane to Spring Lake calls for about 190 units of housing, most of it apartments clustered at the western end of what’s being called the Southeast Greenway.
That’s a 26 percent increase over the most intensely developed of the three options presented to city leaders late last year. It’s also 153 percent more units than the minimalist design favored by the group that’s been advocating for a greenway for eight years.
The revisions, made publicly available last week, followed months of public input and direction from members of the City Council and Planning Commission in November, many of whom stressed that the plan should reflect the city’s top priority, which is housing, and ensure the project can pay for itself, which more development would theoretically allow.
So Tuesday’s follow-up joint meeting of those two city bodies should prove a telling study in where city leaders are leaning when it comes to developing the ribbon of vacant land once eyed for the extension of Highway 12 over Spring Lake.
Will they embrace the new higher-density plan as presented, scale back development out of deference to neighbors hoping for the lightest footprint possible, or set aside even more land for housing near Yulupa Avenue and Summerfield Avenues?
“This alternative does most of the things the council and the commission said were important, and reflects significant community input,” city planner Erin Morris said.
The latest plan, called the preferred alternative, seeks to boost the number of housing units by intensifying development along the western edge of the property, on two parcels to the north and south of the Hoen Avenue on-ramp to Highway 12.
The two largest chunks of housing would now be in this area. The biggest would be about 114 units and 20,000 square feet of commercial space in 4.7 acres of mixed-use development in a triangle between the on-ramp and Hoen frontage road.
Just to the north, between the on-ramp and Vallejo Street, is a 3.7 acre strip of land eyed for 48 units in two- or three-story apartments or condominiums.
Two of the three designs proposed in November had no housing at all in the area along Vallejo Street, but rather open space ensuring the greenway stretched all the way to Farmers Lane.
But the preferred alternative effectively eliminates any green space west of Matanzas Creek, meaning the greenway would only truly begin at Hoen Avenue.
The bicycle and pedestrian pathways would begin where Vallejo Street dead-ends in a quiet neighborhood of mostly townhomes behind the Kelly-Moore Paints building on Farmers Lane.
From there they would head east, skirting the new apartments until they cross the Matanzas Creek and Hoen Avenue.
Such concentration of the bulk of the housing at the extreme western end seems to suit greenway advocates just fine. While it is more housing than the minimal design the campaign originally sought, the strategy will allow the goals of preservation and imposed access to succeed along the rest of the greenway, said Thea Hensel and Linda Proulx, co-chairs of the Southeast Greenway Campaign.
Read the latest plan for the Southeast Greenway here