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Proposed 867-unit Chanate Road housing project gets critical reception at Santa Rosa neighborhood meeting

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Hundreds of people crowded into a Santa Rosa community center Monday to weigh in on a proposed housing project at the site of Sonoma County’s old hospital complex in the city’s northeastern hills.

Most reflected strong resistance to the size of the planned development and the impact they fear it would have on traffic, local schools and the character of their neighborhoods, among other concerns.

The project as currently envisioned would include nearly 870 housing units at the 82-acre county-owned site off Chanate Road. It was presented for feedback at a neighborhood meeting at the Finley Community Center, a step required by the city before the developer applies for planning permits.

The crowd of more than 300 community members often erupted into cheers and applause — or even some booing, when appropriate — to reflect the severity of its displeasure with plans that one commenter described as a “monstrosity.”

Of particular concern to those in attendance was the impact to traffic on Chanate Road, which is predominantly two lanes and serves as a main thoroughfare in the area. Critics are deeply concerned that placing hundreds of new residents right off an already congested route would make getting around even more difficult, particularly during commute times, and potentially exacerbate difficult evacuations during a disaster like last year’s wildfires.

“Every route that you had there was cut off,” said Frank Schulze, who lives near the project site, describing roads in the area during the October firestorm. “The only way to get the hell out of the way of this fire was to come out Chanate Road and go down onto (Mendocino Avenue). That was it.”

Monday’s meeting marked the most visible moment for the project since the Board of Supervisors voted in July to sell the property to developer Bill Gallaher. In addition to hundreds of homes, Gallaher also is planning other development for the site, including a commercial center, amphitheater, a dog park and 2 miles of trails. The project must go through Santa Rosa’s planning process because the property is within city limits.

To supporters, the Chanate Road project represents a key opportunity to introduce hundreds of new homes in a city and county that were in desperate need of them even before the wildfires destroyed nearly 5,300 residences in the area. Of the 867 units Gallaher wants to build, 20 percent would be reserved for residents with very low incomes. A two-bedroom apartment that would rent for about $2,700 per month on the open market today could be offered at the proposed Chanate Village for about $950 to residents with qualifying incomes, according to Gallaher’s project manager, Komron Shahhosseini.

“That will create a significant difference, we feel, for the workforce, the working class that has really been truly priced out of the community,” Shahhosseini said at the meeting.

Shahhosseini showed residents renderings and maps depicting plans to break the Chanate Village up into distinct neighborhoods, each with its own architectural feeling and amenities. The project would feature a mix of housing types, including rental apartment buildings three or four stories tall and some townhomes.

The density of the project has been a selling point for the development team and the county officials who advanced it last year, but it’s also a prime target of critics who say the hilly area can’t support that many new residents. Santa Rosa school officials are particularly concerned that hundreds of new homes in that part of town could overwhelm nearby schools that will not be able to withstand such an influx of students.

“We have serious concerns about this project and its impact on the schools if the project does not consider traffic infrastructure for student transportation and evacuation,” Evelyn Anderson, a Santa Rosa City Schools board member, said at the meeting. “The schools in this residency area are at full capacity. There is no room for any more students.”

The developer’s efforts to move the project through the city planning system may be frustrated if a group of opponents organized under the name Friends of Chanate are successful in their lawsuit trying to unwind the county’s sale of the property. The lawsuit alleges supervisors didn’t get a fair price and neglected to appropriately study the environmental impacts, among other claims. It is set for a hearing July 20 in Sonoma County Superior Court.

But the suit was not discussed at the city meeting Monday, as commenters focused on the specifics of the plans presented by Gallaher’s team. And while the room was mostly critical, some people in the room were supportive of the plans.

Peter Rumble, CEO of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, said the “meaningful” concerns raised by community members will be “addressed in due course” through the city planning process. Rumble, who was a deputy county administrator when supervisors approved the sale last year, said he is “incredibly appreciative” of the proposed housing development.

“I would love for my kids and for the next generation to be able to stay in Santa Rosa and to be able to afford a place to live that isn’t necessarily a single-family home with a pool and a backyard,” he said.

Gallaher’s team will now need to get preliminary input from the city’s design review board before formally moving forward with seeking planning permits and an extensive environmental review, a process city officials expect to take at least a year and a half. The city now has a dedicated web page to provide public updates on the project at srcity.org/2881/Chanate-Village.

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