BoDean asphalt plant moving to Windsor, with aim to convert Santa Rosa site to housing

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The owners of a prominent asphalt plant in central Santa Rosa are planning to move their business to Windsor, laying the groundwork for affordable housing to replace an industrial operation that the owners acknowledge no longer fits into a neighborhood the city has targeted for dense residential development.

BoDean Co. founders Dean and Belinda “Bo” Soiland said their new, larger site in Windsor is better suited for continued industrial use than the current site south of West College Avenue, where the city has taken a stronger regulatory stance in recent years as complaints have mounted from neighbors.

Paperwork to build the new plant will be submitted to Windsor officials in July, Dean Soiland said. The Soilands had not finalized plans for their Santa Rosa property, though planning work there could proceed on a parallel track to development of the new Windsor plant.

The Soilands have planned the move while rebuilding the Fountaingrove home they lost in the Tubbs fire.

“I think we’re used to having a lot of activity and projects,” said Dean Soiland, whose family is one of the largest players in the local construction materials sector. Bo and Dean Soiland own the asphalt plant separately from those other operations.

The planned move marks a significant departure of a prominent manufacturer from Santa Rosa and the proposed transformation of an island of industrial land into much-needed housing to match its present-day neighborhood.

The site on Maxwell Drive has hosted industrial operations since the early 1950s, according to the city, but BoDean’s operations there — dating to back to 2001 — have increasingly chafed against the concerns of the West End neighborhood.

Planning officials have wrangled with the company for years over upgrades to the facility, fueling one of the city’s longest-running recent legal feuds, only recently settled, largely in BoDean’s favor.

City leaders desperate for new housing will likely welcome the possibilities presented by the site, though Councilman Chris Rogers insisted that BoDean was not being forced out.

“I think we’ve hit a confluence where it’s in everybody’s best interest for BoDean to find another site,” Rogers said.

Rogers said he started talking with Dean Soiland about the future of the plant several months ago after Rogers made a critical remark about BoDean at a council meeting. A mutual friend in the construction industry from outside Santa Rosa stepped in, asking the two to broker a truce, Rogers said.

Dean Soiland credited Rogers and local architect Warren Hedgpeth with helping to put the housing plan in motion.

Hedgpeth has calculated that about 400 people could live in a new housing complex there, though he noted that his early designs are preliminary. He said he confirmed that a “socially conscious” Bay Area nonprofit, which he declined to identify, would be interested in redeveloping the land before calling Soiland and pitching the idea.

Hedgpeth also said that his preliminary sketches of housing on the BoDean site — featuring a central green space and areas for socializing — were not solicited by the Soilands and should not be considered final designs.

Last year, the company bought about 4.5 acres of the Santa Rosa plant property from a subsidiary of Germany’s HeidelbergCement, one of the world’s largest construction materials companies, Dean Soiland said.

The other two acres on the site, which BoDean rents to store asphalt material, are owned by Jerry and Arlene Fritsch, a Santa Rosa couple.

The land has been in the Fritsch family for decades and has been leased to the Soilands and their predecessors on the site for many years, said Jerry Fritsch.

Prospective buyers have for years been turned away, he said. But the asphalt plant’s departure would open other options, including housing, and could raise the land’s value and change his mind about not selling, he added.

“I’m resistant to change. Even though change can be for the better, I like things the way they are,” Fritsch said.

The Soilands are under contract to buy land where they hope to build an asphalt plant in Windsor on a property near where Shiloh Road crosses Highway 101, Dean Soiland said. The location, occupied by the Mobile Mini storage company and several other businesses, is near Northgate Ready Mix, a concrete company owned by Troy Soiland, Dean’s brother.

The land appears to be owned by a real estate investment company owned by Lynn C. Fritz, the former proprietor of Fritz Companies Inc., a shipping service acquired by UPS in 2001 for about $450 million in stock. Fritz, who now co-owns with his wife Anisya Fritz the 100-acre Lynmar Estate vineyard near Sebastopol, declined to comment through a company representative.

BoDean has operated the Santa Rosa plant for 18 years. It has been grandfathered into Santa Rosa’s local landscape, as it was operating legally before city zoning for the site changed to reflect its potential for housing near Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square train station.

The announcement follows the recent settlement of a lawsuit BoDean filed against Santa Rosa stemming from site improvements made over a decade ago, ending a protracted dispute between the company and the city. The plant also has drawn numerous complaints from neighbors due to the noise and smell associated with producing the hot, sticky substance used to build roads and fill potholes.

City plans put BoDean’s site in the northwest corner of Santa Rosa’s downtown area, where city officials have tried to foster the growth of dense housing near the Railroad Square SMART depot. The city is in the process of revising its downtown plan to advance housing growth, which could allow development of BoDean’s site to house more people than would be allowed under current rules.

The Soilands acknowledged their Santa Rosa plant has outlived its location on the northern outskirts of the West End neighborhood, as more housing and nonindustrial businesses sprung up around the plant.

Buying the bulk of the site’s land gave the Soilands control over it’s “highest and best use,” which has changed since BoDean became a tenant, Dean Soiland said, alluding to Santa Rosa’s intense focus on housing creation near downtown.

“Unfortunately, we have a lot of marginalized and underserved people in this town who can’t afford to live here,” he said.

He declined to say how much asphalt the Santa Rosa plant produced and how many people he employed, noting those figures vary seasonally. The Soilands also declined to say how much they paid for the Windsor land, the potential costs and revenues associated with developing a new plant and new housing, or how long they expect construction of the new plant and redevelopment of the current site to take.

The Santa Rosa plant would continue to operate until BoDean’s Windsor facility was fully operational, Dean Soiland said, a timeline he linked to a politically popular cause — the need to produce asphalt to build new roads and fill the region’s many potholes.

“We can’t just shut this thing down,” he said.

The Windsor plant will be the same size and scope as the Santa Rosa site, but it will feature improved technology and have less environmental impact due to engineering improvements and regulations that didn’t exist when the Santa Rosa plant was first built, Dean Soiland said.

“Right now we have a ’57 Chevy, and we’re going to be getting a Tesla,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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