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Downtown GE property considered for rezoning

Permit Sonoma seeks community comment on draft Environmental Impact Report for potential housing sites

By Tracy salcedo

Seeking to address ongoing concerns about limited housing stock throughout Sonoma County — especially workforce housing — Permit Sonoma has proposed rezoning 59 sites county-wide, including two adjacent parcels in downtown Glen Ellen, to allow for higher-density development. Rezoning these sites, scattered across unincorporated Sonoma County from Geyserville to Penngrove, is intended to help the county “provide housing development opportunities throughout the urban areas of the unincorporated county near jobs, transit, services, and schools,” and help meet projected regional housing needs specified by California’s Housing Element law, according to the Rezoning Sites for Housing Project and associated draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The Glen Ellen properties are located on the southeast corner of Carquinez Avenue and Arnold Drive, and total just less than 1 acre. If the proposed rezoning as a Workforce Housing (WH) Combining Zone is approved, up to 22 units could be built on the parcels. The WH Combining Zone allows additional density under the county’s density bonus programs for affordable units, and requires a minimum density of 16 units per acre.

The draft EIR’s introduction states the Glen Ellen sites are “areas of known controversy.” Public comments cited in the report reflect concerns that increased density and application of the WH Zone district on the parcels would be in conflict with the county’s General Plan policies for Glen Ellen, as well as the Glen Ellen Development and Design Guidelines. Several commenters noted the increased density would be out of scale with Glen Ellen’s small village character. Comments also reflected concerns about traffic impacts, insufficient infrastructure, tree removal, and wildfire hazards. The draft EIR concluded environmental impacts of the proposed rezoning, across all 59 sites, would not be significant in most issue areas if recommended mitigation measures are imposed. Several significant and unavoidable impacts were identified, however, including impacts on cultural resources, traffic, and wildfire risk — meaning that even with mitigation measures, these impacts would remain significant. Currently, the Glen Ellen parcels are zoned Limited Commercial, and host five residences and a commercial business. The parcels have been the subject of several proposals by the owner, Marty Winters, including a 2019 proposed redevelopment for 15 residential units and 2,278 square feet of commercial space. No action has been taken on that proposal. The Rezoning Sites for Housing Project implements current General Plan policies and programs that require the county to identify urban sites near jobs and transit for additional housing, as well as sites appropriate for rezoning as WH Combining Districts, which allows development of jobs and/or housing on the same site or within walking distance. The General Plan specifies additional criteria for identifying housing sites, including proximity to jobs, transit, services, and schools. The project proposes rezoning for “by-right, medium-density housing,” up to 24 units per acre, and exempts the parcels from discretionary land use approvals and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. No public decision-maker hearings would be required regarding the density of development once the rezoning is approved; properties may move forward with “ministerial” permits to increase housing density.

The EIR is available for review at https://sonomacounty.ca.gov/ PRMD/Regulations/Housing/ Housing-Sites-EIR/Resources-and-Documents/. The public comment period on the draft EIR ends June 18, 2021. Comments may be submitted to [email protected] org. A Planning Commission hearing, scheduled for May 20, 2021, will consider the EIR and the proposed project, and allow public comment. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will also hold a hearing on the project before deciding whether to certify the EIR and approve the rezoning. For further information, contact Nina Belluci at Permit Sonoma, (707) 565-1236.

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