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Close to Home: Chanate sale offers rare housing opportunity for Sonoma County

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The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will vote on a property sale agreement for the Chanate property, otherwise known as the former Sutter Hospital campus in Santa Rosa. The details of the property sale are outlined in the staff report and materials that have been available for public review since June 6. As the two supervisors who worked with county staff on the sale, we feel the agreement includes a strong financial offer and delivers significant benefits for our community.

We were heartened to read a recent Press Democrat editorial that urged the public and interest groups to put personal differences aside to focus on what really matters — providing homes for people of all incomes (“After Measure C, housing solutions are still needed,” June 8). The proposed sale agreement for the 82 acres represents a major step toward this goal.

Since 2004, members of our community offered suggestions on the use of the property. Using the existing facilities isn’t an option; maintaining the aging facilities at the Chanate campus has cost the county approximately $6 million over the past several years. Further, retrofitting the dilapidated former hospital building is estimated to cost almost $100 million.

The Board of Supervisors determined that selling the property was the best path forward. More than 200 community members provided input on what should be achieved in the sale, with the themes of housing, small commercial opportunities, open space preservation and recreation amenities rising to the top. We agree.

The county advertised the property sale nationally, reached more than 500 developers and extended submission deadlines to give any interested developer ample opportunity to respond. A multi-jurisdiction review panel, including outside independent experts, received two proposals. The review panel found Chanate Community Development Partners, led by William Gallaher in partnership with Bridge Housing and Burbank Housing, to be the superior proposal.

Following months of negotiation, we are recommending the approval of the sale agreement, which outlines the developer’s vision for market-rate housing, very-low-income housing, small-scale commercial opportunities, and recreational and cultural amenities. This represents a significant value to the community, ranging from $42 million to $72 million, depending on the number of housing units built, which will be determined by the city of Santa Rosa. The value is consistent with multiple appraisals.

Although the county is considering a land sale, not a formal project, the developer’s vision includes housing for individuals and families, and set-asides for seniors and veterans. Twenty percent of all housing will be held for very-low-income residents, which means those with a total family income of $41,300 for a family of four, or a monthly rental price for a three-bedroom apartment of about $800. Significant open space will be preserved, including “Parcel J” at the end of Beverley Way, along with trails for residents to enjoy and small commercial opportunities like a community market. The county would receive increased property tax revenue as well as virtually free rent on current public facilities until services are consolidated elsewhere. And, the recommended developer is working with the nonprofits on site to help move services with as little disruption as possible.

There is something unusual about this process. Most government property sales do not have a master plan included, particularly in situations like this where another jurisdiction is responsible for the project approval. To be clear, we are carrying out a land sale only; Santa Rosa’s planning process will determine how the property will be developed. However, we asked for more information in the sale process because we believe the community should have an idea of the selected developer’s vision.

We welcome community input on Tuesday as our board considers the sale agreement. We believe this sale will lead to a legacy project that will serve our community for generations to come. To learn more, please visit our website at sonomacounty.ca.gov.

Shirlee Zane and Susan Gorin are members of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

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