GE residents sound off on downtown building design
A design of a mixed-use development in Glen Ellen got a cool reception at a recent meeting of the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission (SVCAC), with residents saying the project was out of scale and out of character with the rest of the downtown area.
At the SVCAC meeting on March 27, the commissioners agreed, recommending that the design as proposed be rejected by county officials, and that further work by the developer be done to address the public’s concerns.
Marty Winter, the developer and owner of a number of properties in Glen Ellen and Kenwood for many years, said in a later interview that he “took the comments to heart”, and would work with his architect, county planners, and the community in revising the design.
The mixed-use project is proposed for highly visible parcels that wrap around the corner of Arnold Drive and Carquinez Avenue. Presently, the sites contain single- and multi-family residences and commercial space, including two single-family homes, three apartment units, and almost 2,000 square feet of commercial space on the corner taken, up by a wine tasting room and a jeweler.
The proposal calls for a total of 7,000 square feet of commercial/office space, eight residential units (two designated as affordable), and a parking lot in the back of the parcels for 34 spaces which would be accessed from a new driveway off of Carquinez Avenue.
The one-story building on the corner will remain as is with some modifications. There would be two new two-story buildings (with a top height of just over 31 feet) fronting Arnold Drive, each with commercial space on the bottom, and two apartment units on the second floor. A two-story building would be built on the Carquinez Avenue side with a total of four living units, and the cottage next to it would be turned into commercial space.
In letters, and from speakers at the March 27 SVCAC meeting, the message was that the project needed major revisions.
While the architect on the project, Eric Glass, said the design of the two-story buildings attempted to make them unassuming, and not look ostentatious and out of place, community members present disagreed.
Longtime Glen Ellen resident Alice Horowitz said that while she welcomes an upgrade to the properties, the new building designs looked “severe and urban.”
“I believe the current proposal is out of scale and incompatible with existing development in downtown Glen Ellen,” said Horowitz. “The properties are a large part of downtown, and have the potential to dramatically change the character of Glen Ellen.”
Another longtime resident, Greg Guerrazzi, stated that the plan is, “an example of modern architecture in a historic village. It just doesn’t seem to fit.”
Guerrazzi and others also brought up the issue of traffic. A traffic study for the project estimated there would be up to 208 new vehicle trips a day.
“Two-hundred-eight more trips a day will create gridlock on Carquinez Avenue,” said Guerrazzi.
Others questioned the need for more commercial space, given the fact that many commercial spaces in Glen Ellen are vacant, and have been for some time.
Winter said that county planners were requiring him to add a ground floor commercial component into the project based on the zoning, though he would rather have more residential units instead. He said he planned on continued conversations with the county on that issue.
Other issues brought up included objections to the construction materials proposed for the buildings, the higher density than exists currently, the opinion that the traffic study itself was faulty, and that the plan is inconsistent with county land use guidelines for Glen Ellen.
SVCAC commissioners, who act as an advisory body only, agreed with public sentiment that the project’s design needed more work.
By a unanimous vote, the panel recommended that the design as proposed be denied due to the inadequacies of the traffic study, and that Winter should work to reduce the sense that the buildings are out of scale and incompatible, and should meet with the Glen Ellen Forum and other community representatives to try and resolve outstanding issues.
In his later interview, Winter said he would appear at future Glen Ellen Forum meetings for further discussion of the project.
“I don’t want to push something the community doesn’t support,” said Winter.
Winter has been working on the project since 2016, but, like a number of other projects in the county, plans were put on hold as the county dealt with the complex aftermath of the October 2017 wildfires.
Eventually the design of any project will go in front of the county’s Design Review Committee, which has the final say on the design of significant development projects.
For those wanting to give any input to the county planner on the project, contact Nina Belluci at Nina.Belluci@sonoma.county.org.
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