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Public meeting on downtown Santa Rosa project

6 p.m., Wednesday, March 21 in the Chamber Room at 635 First St., across from Santa Rosa City Hall, near the corner of Santa Rosa Avenue and First Street. A large copper fountain is located out front.

Anyone who wants to review the project file in the Planning and Economic Development Department at City Hall, 100 Santa Rosa Ave. can do so on Mondays, Tuesdays or Thursdays, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Wednesdays, from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and Fridays, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.

Questions or comments can be directed to Bert Bangsberg, at 707 528-9991, or project planner Kristinae Toomians, 707-543-4692 or KToomians@srcity.org.

More information also can be found at buildcaritasvillage.org.

Santa Rosa has scheduled a public meeting to air plans and invite comment on a large-scale proposal for new housing and expanded homeless services on most of a downtown block between Highway 101 and the Plaza shopping mall.

The March 21 meeting will include a description of the project and an opportunity for the public to ask questions of representatives for Catholic Charities and Burbank Housing, the two nonprofits behind the ambitious plan.

The intention, in part, is to identify potential objections in advance of a formal permit application, by giving “neighbors a chance to digest what their proposal is,” city planner Kristinae Toomians said.

It’s also an effort to bring neighbors and the public into the planning process, said Jennielynn Holmes, senior director of shelter and housing for Catholic Charities.

“We want to make sure this is part of their community,” Holmes said. “This is their project.”

The project, known as Caritas Village, would include two four-story apartment buildings with a combined 137 units for low-income residents; a large facility with emergency shelter space for up to 52 homeless families, as well as a day-care center; 2,300 square feet for volunteer/staff housing and a service center, including a potential medical clinic. Onsite parking for residents would be provided on the ground floor of the apartments.

The entire project has been designed with an eye toward privacy on the grounds, perimeters that blend into neighboring residential areas and aesthetics that meld with the historic flavor of the neighborhood, organizers said. The northern edge of the apartments would be kept at two stories, with porches facing out toward neighboring properties to more fully integrate the project into the community.

But the development would undeniably transform the block bounded by A and Morgan streets, Sixth and Seventh streets, including the current site of the Catholic Charities Family Support Center, located in the century-old Santa Rosa General Hospital building on A Street, and the agency’s homeless service center operating in a two-bedroom bungalow on Morgan Street.

Both buildings are owned by Catholic Charities and would be demolished to make way for new structures. Two other bungalows and a vacant apartment building also would be razed.

Catholic Charities owns the entire block, save for two residential lots at Morgan and Sixth streets that would remain in private ownership.

The nonprofit organization, Sonoma County’s largest homeless services provider, completed purchase of the site three years ago and had begun imagining how the property could be used to better meet the growing need for affordable housing and improved services for the county’s disproportionately large homeless population.

Then the October firestorm hit, displacing thousands more people and putting the squeeze on an already-tight housing market, especially for low-income residents, Holmes said.

The disaster made the need for housing more urgent and voluminous, shaping the proposal before the community now, she said.

The plans were unveiled before a small group of neighbors about a month ago at a quarterly meeting Catholic Charities holds for the neighborhood. The sheer size and occupancy of the project have drawn early opposition.

Some residents object to the demolition of buildings within the existing St. Rose Historic District to make way for new building. Caritas Village would require a lifting of the historic overlay to go forward, Toomians said.

Other residents fear enhanced homeless services will draw more nuisance behavior to the area, such as public camping, littering, public toileting and open drinking or drug use, despite the promise of round-the-clock site management and supervision at the proposed facilities.

“Things that have happened in this neighborhood are very different from what happens in other neighborhoods,” said Allen Thomas, a property owner in the nearby West End neighborhood, where recent encampments have created health and safety concerns. “I’m hopeful that whatever use permits they come up with reflect a nod to the neighbors in terms of impacts.”

But Holmes said feedback on the proposal, overall, has been “overwhelmingly supportive — let’s get it built yesterday.”

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

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