Santa Rosa approves long-awaited Roseland housing and retail project

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A development promising to transform a largely vacant commercial plot in Roseland into affordable apartments, retail shops and library space cleared a crucial hurdle Tuesday night, securing unanimous approval from the City Council.

A hearing on the Roseland Village Neighborhood Center, more than a decade in the making, ran more than three hours before the council advanced plans for the roughly 7.5-acre Sebastopol Road site, owned by the Sonoma County Community Development Commission. The site currently includes a Dollar Tree, the temporary Roseland library branch, and a large parking lot.

Council members favored the promise of new housing — up to 175 apartments — and potential economic benefits for the greater Roseland area over objections from a nearby landlord and some council members’ concerns that developers plan to build market-rate and affordable units in separate buildings and on different schedules.

“This is what we have been waiting for, in my opinion,” said Councilman John Sawyer, who was first elected in 2004. “I believe that ‘perfect project’ is an oxymoron. Roseland deserves it. Santa Rosa deserves it.”

The Community Development Commission, which bought the property nearly a decade ago, now is clear to sell part of the site to UrbanMix Development, a San Francisco real estate company that plans to round up an estimated $30 million in private financing to build 100 market-rate apartments on the eastern half of the site. On the western side, Foster City-based nonprofit developer MidPen Housing Corp. plans to apply for state and federal funds to come up with roughly $35 million for 75 more apartments restricted to low-income tenants.

The proceeds from that sale, coupled with state dollars remaining from the now-defunct redevelopment program, will be used to build streets and other infrastructure for the site, which will also feature a 1-acre park and a mercado- style shopping center.

The project, which the city Planning Commission advanced in Feburary, came before the City Council after an appeal by John Paulsen, who owns retail property directly east of the Roseland Village Neighborhood Center site. His late father, Viggo Paulsen, came to a private deal with the late developer Hugh Codding in the 1950s meant to guarantee access for both developers’ tenants.

Now, John Paulsen fears the new development will eliminate critical parking for customers on his property and make it difficult for trucks to make deliveries to stores there. He cited the decades-old easement agreement, which he said the CDC knew about when it bought the property and failed to work with him to resolve.

“Nothing has been done,” he said. “No negotiations, discussions, nothing.”

Paulsen also has sued Sonoma County, MidPen and Urban Mix in Sonoma County Superior Court. He said that case would continue despite Tuesday’s outcome.

The council discussion took a turn when Councilwomen Julie Combs and Victoria Fleming raised questions about whether separating the market- rate and affordable apartments would amount to housing segregation on the basis of income. Fleming voiced concerns about disadvantaged outcomes for people who have grown up in segregated areas, such as Oakland and her native San Leandro. Combs recalled how whites and people of color used to have to use different water fountains under the guise of equality.

“If I’m hearing you correctly, you are making a ‘separate but equal’ argument,” Combs said during MidPen’s presentation.

Ben Terry, the president of the Santa Rosa- Sonoma County branch of the NAACP, echoed the point: “How can it be one community when you got two different houses? It don’t work.”

Jan Lindenthal, the chief real estate development officer for MidPen, said the project was conceived not as separate apartment projects but as one neighborhood with shared access to amenities. She added that she found the suggestion that the development would constitute segregated housing to be “very disturbing.”

“We are deeply committed to the success of our residents, and we believe that what we are able to do is build beautiful communities that allow our residents to truly thrive,” Lindenthal said during the hearing.

The balance of public comment was in support of the development, with statements of support coming from Ann Hammond, director of the Sonoma County Library; Marcos Suarez, the business diversity program manager with the Sonoma County Economic Development Board; Peter Rumble, CEO of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber of Commerce; and Chris Grabill, a contractor and member of the Board of Public Utilities who noted that his late father David Grabill died while helping plan the Roseland Village project.

“This is really frustrating,” Chris Grabill said, shortly before hoisting his daughter up to the microphone for her own public comment: “Say yes to housing.”

Combs and Fleming both voted for the project despite their reservations, and Santa Rosa is poised to continue the conversation about separating housing by income level.

Councilman Jack Tibbetts said that he enthusiastically supported the Roseland Village Neighborhood Center — but also planned to ensure the council talks more about integrating affordable and market-rate housing units, which he called the “gold standard.”

“Perfection cannot impede the good in this instance,” he said.

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

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misidentified the Board of Public Utilities.

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