Sonoma County renews effort to sell Chanate Road property for housing
Call it Chanate 2.0.
Sonoma County supervisors are once again seeking to sell a nearly 72-acre property in northeast Santa Rosa to an affordable housing developer, reviving an effort started more than three years ago that triggered a neighborhood rebellion and a legal challenge that ultimately forced the county to cancel a deal with a prominent local homebuilder.
The property in question is at 3313 Chanate Road, site of the old county hospital and later Sutter Medical Center. It was slated by the county to be one of Santa Rosa’s largest single housing projects in recent memory.
But the legal setback prompted the county in October to walk away from a multimillion-dollar deal with developer Bill Gallaher, who wanted to build 867 housing units on the sprawling site, including rental apartment buildings three or four stories tall, a prospect that neighbors vehemently opposed.
In December, supervisors voted to start all over again, and county staffers last week solicited financial offers from about 650 organizations, including five local Native American tribes.
Prospective buyers are limited, under state law, to designated public agencies and “housing sponsors” that would focus on building affordable housing, with parks, schools or other government facilities as alternatives. For housing sponsors, the property would carry a 55-year deed restriction for affordable housing.
Caroline Judy, the county’s general services director, said the purchase offers are not required to include the buyer’s development plan but must prove the entity has the wherewithal to make it happen.
“We need to see the financial capacity of the organization to close through an escrow process,” she said. “They need to provide us assurance they have the money.”
The project design is a matter to be worked out between the buyer and Santa Rosa, Judy said.
Asked if the county is obliged to sell the land to the highest bidder, Judy said the offers must be compared with the “fair market value” based on an appraisal of the property.
The county has obtained an appraisal, which is not a public record until the recommended proposals are brought before the supervisors for their consideration, she said.
A 2016 appraisal ranged from as little as $7 million for the unimproved property to as much as $275.5 million if it was developed with commercial properties and housing.
The new sale process will exclude a nearly 10-acre portion of the site that features a beloved grassy meadow neighbors have long understood to be part of an open space preserve.
Prospective buyers may submit offers for the entire 71.6-acre property, or for one or more of three land “bundles” of about 20, 21 and 30 acres.
The deadline for offers is May 10.
Private developers will only be allowed to submit offers if none is received from housing sponsors, Judy said.
County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, whose district includes the Chanate site, declined to say what she would like to see built on the old hospital site.
“I would hope that whoever buys it listens to the neighborhood and the community ... and we come up with a win-win solution for everybody,” she said. Zane, especially, was targeted by opponents of the former sale, who placed large signs in her McDonald Avenue neighborhood and along her route to work assailing aspects of the deal.