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New draft environmental impact review available for Elnoka development

Lengthy document doesn’t include traffic study, a major issue for the area
New draft environmental impact review available for Elnoka development

By Jay Gamel

Along-anticipated Draft Environment Impact Report (DEIR) was released by Santa Rosa planners at 4:45 p.m. on Friday, May 1, starting the clock ticking on a public comment period. The public has until June 10 to digest the 726page document and submit their comments. All written comments received will be made public at least 10 days before the DEIR is considered for certification.

The Elnoka Continuing Care Retirement Community Project (Elnoka) is located at 6100 and 6160 Sonoma Highway. Sonoma County developer Bill Gallaher has proposed building “676 residential units, consisting of 74 cottages, 528 apartments, 12 attached units intended for employee housing, and a 62-unit care center. There will be private and formal dining rooms, a café, entertainment and activity rooms, sport courts, swimming pool, pet parks, walking paths, a beauty salon, reading rooms, banking services, business center, and outside courtyards,” according to the DEIR’s description. Residents of adjacent Oakmont, a senior living community, have strenuously objected to development plans put forward by a number of owners over the past 35 years. Gallaher withdrew the former 479-unit project after mounting opposition over ridgeline sighting. An earlier proposal ran into a buzzsaw of objections because residency was not age-restricted.

The property site name “Elnoka” is made up of the first and second letters of the original owners’ daughters’ names, Elizabeth, Norma, and Karen, who lived on the property until it was finally sold to a Japanese developer in the late 1990s. Gallaher bought the 68-acre property in 2005. He was closely involved with building many of the original Oakmont homes and golf courses.

“The major issue is traffic, of course,” Wally Schilpp said after a preliminary review of the DEIR. “There’s no way to mitigate traffic except by cutting down the size of the project, the number of people allowed per acre. Everything else is not even germane to whether to build. It cannot bear the traffic it will create. And I haven’t looked at [a separate, 1,000-page traffic study].”

Schilpp, who originally represented Oakmont interests as a member of the Oakmont Development Committee and retired when the last project was withdrawn, came out of retirement to deal with the new plans last year.

The housing density zoning and actual disposition of units “intended” for employee housing concern Schilpp as well.

The massive document will require further study to be fully understood, Schilpp emphasized.

While the FEIR Executive Summary on page 21 notes that impacts to the local scenic vista and visual character will be significant and unavoidable, the cumulative impact summaries toward the end, on page 627, find significant and unavoidable impacts even with mitigation. (Which may include a new traffic light at the Highway 12 entrance, less than half a mile from the existing light at Melita Road, where the highway expands to four lanes with separators.) Elnoka – continued from page 14

Overall, cumulative transportation/traffic impacts would be significant and unavoidable, since the cumulative conflict with an applicable plan establishing measures of effectiveness for the performance of the circulation system impact would not be reduced to less than significant due to the uncertainty of mitigation implementation as a result of the need for Caltrans approval, and/ or the need for additional right-of-way. For reasons previously described, the project’s contribution to a significant and unavoidable impact on traffic would be considerable.

The occurrence of two major wildfires since 2017 — prompting major evacuations throughout Sonoma Valley, including Oakmont — has highlighted that Highway 12 is the only major through-route in the Valley, with Warm Springs Road a minor and difficult road through Bennett Valley to Santa Rosa and Petaluma. Trinity Road. eastward to Napa County offers a poor escape route, since it winds through some of the heaviest wildland fuel concentrations in the North Bay.

Oakmont backs up to Annadel-Trione State Park and was impacted by both the 2017 and 2020 wildfires. Adding many hundreds of additional senior residents to a future evacuation zone at a choke point on the major evacuation route for Sonoma Valley is problematic for many.

While the DEIR anticipates “potentially controversial issues,” calling out traffic on Sonoma Highway from the start, it is also careful to note that “decision-makers are vested with the ability to choose whatever viewpoint is preferable and need not resolve a dispute among experts.” While expert opinions must be considered, they don’t have to be followed to approve a finding, according to Walnut Creek-based FirstCarbon Solutions, which authored the report. A PDF of the DEIR can be downloaded at the City of Santa Rosa’s website at Physical copies are available at the OVA office at 6637 Oakmont Dr., Suite A, at Santa Rosa City Hall at 100 Santa Rosa Ave., Room 3, and at the Rincon Valley Library at 6959 Montecito Blvd. in Santa Rosa.

Comments should be directed to Kristinae Toomians, Senior Planner, Planning and Economic Development, 100 Santa Rosa Ave., Room 3. She can be reached at (707) 543-4348 or via email at [email protected].