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Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa is drawing up plans to transform nearly an entire city block with a new homeless service center, family shelter and nearly 140 low-cost apartments in partnership with nonprofit Burbank Housing.

The ambitious project, just now being unveiled to the public, would replace existing facilities and several homes on a downtown city block bounded by Sixth and Seventh, A and Morgan streets, northwest of the Santa Rosa Plaza mall.

The proposal, contemplated for several years though only now beginning to take shape on paper, has “had very positive feedback,” Catholic Charities Executive Director Len Marabella said.

“You know, it’s exciting and exhilarating as you really see it going together,” he said.

Named Caritas Village, from the Latin word for “charity” or “love for all people,” the site includes Catholic Charities’ current Family Support Center on A Street and the homeless drop-in center behind it, at 600 Morgan Street. Agency officials say the existing facilities — the century- old Santa Rosa General Hospital and an aging two-bedroom house — are inadequate to meet the need for temporary shelter and expanded programming shown to reduce homelessness.

But key to the project’s vision and urgency in a post-fire world is the inclusion of high-density, affordable housing for families and individuals priced out by the local market, representatives of the two nonprofits said. The October fires destroyed more than 5,100 homes in Sonoma County, including about 5 percent of Santa Rosa’s housing stock.

“We were thinking about maybe a less aggressive housing project — and certainly a more relaxed timeline,” said Mark Krug, business development manager for Santa Rosa-based Burbank Housing, the county’s largest affordable housing developer. “But now that the fires hit, we feel like we have more of a moral obligation to the community to move as quickly and aggressively as we can.”

The proposal joins a growing list of projects involving Burbank Housing, which emerged last weekend as a lead developer in a bid to transform the fire-ravaged Journey’s End mobile home park into a new complex of affordable and market-rate apartments.

At Caritas Village, as currently envisioned, Burbank Housing would build and manage two multi-level apartment buildings on the north end of the site, with a combined 137 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartment units. Only one of the agency’s 63 housing projects has more units, Krug said. About half of the tenants at Caritas Homes would be people who are currently homeless or at risk of it, Krug said. The remainder would provide housing for those whose income levels are at or below 60 percent of the area’s median, he said.

A new emergency family shelter with up to 56 rooms and enlarged housing- focused day center for those experiencing homelessness would be built near the southeast end of the parcel, with an entrance off Sixth Street, away from residential areas. While Catholic Charities owns the existing Morgan Street drop-in center, two neighboring homes used for client volunteers and a vacant apartment building — all expected to be razed — two privately owned and occupied homes at the corner of Morgan and Sixth streets would remain untouched.

The agencies hope to begin phased construction by 2020 and expects it to be entirely complete within about 20 months after groundbreaking, said Jennielynn Holmes, director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities.

But numerous hurdles remain before that can happen, including refinement of the conceptual plans, changes to the land-use designations for the site and neighborhood outreach necessary to win community support for so large a project.

Key issues include the site’s inclusion within the boundaries of the St. Rose Historic District, which adds a level of scrutiny to plans to demolish structures.

One resident and representative for the district, Denise Hill, attended a meeting last week at which the project was introduced to neighbors and said later that plans to tear down buildings are “a deal breaker” as far as she’s concerned.

Hill, who works for Sonoma Media Investments, owner of The Press Democrat, said she supports the overall mission and believes Catholic Charities has been responsive to neighborhood concerns in the past. But the agency has been repeatedly reminded that the land is in the historic district and should not be making plans to build on existing structures.

“The whole point of the preservation district is that you are protecting the homes in the outer parts of the district from being eaten up by big development,” she said.

Another area activist, West End Neighborhood resident Allen Thomas, said he has hesitations about the size and scope of the project, including parking needs and the plan to demolish structures in the historic district.

But he also highlighted adverse impacts neighbors on both sides of Highway 101 have experienced as a result of homeless loitering and encampments in the area, particularly given the exploding population of campers under area highway overpasses last winter. He said neighbors would need assurances the redevelopment would not negatively affect the area.

“If they had a clean and safe facility, I would be 100 percent behind the construction of a center there, as long as it didn’t have negative impacts on the neighborhood,” Thomas said.

Holmes said clients of Catholic Charities are obliged to adhere to a “good neighbor policy” that prohibits them from camping, toileting, engaging in criminal conduct or other unsocial behaviors in the area.

She also noted that the proposed housing would have round-the-clock on-site management and security patrols. Design elements in the project are meant to increase privacy and security, including windows facing the streets.

“We want to design around making things feel more safe and integrated into the neighborhood,” Holmes said.

Catholic Charities moved into the hospital site in 1989 and bought most of the block it is on from St. Joseph Health in 2015, Holmes said.

The hospital structure houses the largest emergency family shelter between the Golden Gate and the Oregon border. It accommodates 138 individuals, or 35 to 40 families, but there is always a waiting list of up to 70 families, Holmes said.

The nearby 1,200-square-foot home that houses the drop-in center serves about 2,400 people a year, providing shower and laundry facilities, mail delivery, a telephone and referrals to social services.

“It’s a basic lifeline for a lot of individuals who are homeless in Santa Rosa, and kind of the doorway to how we serve some of those people,” Holmes said.

Hopes for the new center include 6,000 square feet of space and even, perhaps, a clinic at some point.

The preliminary drawings include interior walkways and courtyards between buildings to improve privacy for both clients and neighbors, with exterior design intended to fit in with the historic neighborhood, she said. Parking for the housing would be located under the apartments.

The nonprofits have yet to file formal applications with the Santa Rosa Planning Department, but representatives have been discussing next steps with city staff. A community meeting is expected to be scheduled in the next few weeks to outline the process and gather community input, according to Kristinae Toomians, a senior planner for the city.

There will be numerous opportunities for the public to and city officials to weigh, in as the project will require a variety of approvals from various city panels, including cultural heritage and design review boards, planning commissioners and the City Council, said Planning Director David Guhin.

He noted the project’s mission fits with stated City Council goals prioritizing the addition of housing and reduced homelessness in the city. “We’re all supportive of what they’re proposing in terms of utilizing that property for affordable housing and the expansion of their services, which is really critically needed,” he said.

Conceptual drawings also suggest “an aesthetic upgrade” is in store for the site, said Councilman Tom Schwedhelm, who is active on homelessness issues.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction, and it’s a need that this is community is desperate for,” he said.

It’s not clear what the project might cost, given the design is still only conceptual and that the costs of construction in the post-fire era are still in flux. Catholic Charities will be launching a capital campaign to raise funding for the project.

Several local philanthropists already have pledged support, including bank executive Vic Trione and his wife, Karen; retired financier Jon Stark, a veteran of the Burbank Housing board member, and his wife, Terry, a longtime supporter of Catholic Charities.

“I think it’s just a very important project, and the need is so magnified by the fires,” Jon Stark said.

Said Trione, “I really think it’s the right project at the right place at the right time and, you know, the right people.”

Catholic Charities is hosting community tours of its facility to help inform the public about its programs and vision for the site. The tours take place at noon.March 8 and 22, April 5 and 19, and May 3 and 17, beginning in the lobby of the Family Support Center at 465 A Street. See buildcaritasvillage.org for more information on the project.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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