County housing density rezone moves forward
JUNE 1, 2021
One Glen Ellen property selected for all of Sonoma Valley
By Jay Gamel
It seemed odd to Alice Horowitz and other Glen Ellen residents that the county was seeking higher densities for a downtown parcel owned by Marty Winter when they already anticipate a large number of new housing units to be built at nearby Sonoma Development Center (SDC).
Housing, and particularly affordable housing, is a mandated requirement under an ongoing state and county planning process setting the terms for the SDC property to be moved into county and private ownership in the next few years.
At the May 19 meeting of the North Sonoma Valley Municipal Advisory Council (NSVMAC), Permit Sonoma Project Planner Nina Bellucci outlined the county’s proposal to increase density allowances for 59 parcels situated in Urban Growth Districts throughout the unincorporated areas, including two in downtown Glen Ellen. The increases are intended to help the county meet housing construction goals set by a regional authority with control over millions of dollars of state and federal housing funds. The numbers must be approved by the regional authority by 2023.
The thought of an unknown number of mandated housing units being built at the nearby SDC campus, combined with a targeted density zoning increase for downtown properties, is making some people nervous about the future of the small town.
“It seems the whole project and the [county] General Plan is not taking into consideration significant housing at the Sonoma Developmental Center,” Alice Horowitz said. “[While that is] not for who knows how long, housing there is mandated by the state, it is coming, and it may be sizable. How is that being factored into this EIR at all? It seems like a huge question just sitting there. It will have an enormous impact on Glen Ellen; cumulatively, it’s a big deal.”
The vital process of setting and meeting regional housing requirements is complicated and moves to an asynchronous rhythm: The required development numbers are reevaluated every eight years by regional authorities and must be incorporated in the housing element of each county’s general plan. The last one was done in 2014.
General plans are updated every five or ten years, sometimes in sync with the decennial national census. Multiple devastating wildfires since 2017, coupled with 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic, have thrown all scheduled government planning off track throughout the state and Sonoma County. To add zest to the process, Sonoma County’s allotment of future housing was increased nearly 800 percent in 2020, leaving local officials scrambling to come up with enough potential home sites (which must be identified by parcel number) that are zoned to develop adequate numbers of housing units. Sonoma County now has to demonstrate where it can build 3,881 new units between 2023 to 2031 in its unincorporated areas. The allotment for 2015-2022 was 515. In order to keep the process as painless as possible for developers, the county has developed a single Environmental Impact Report (EIR), required by state law for rezoning density, that considers 59 parcels that could potentially provide enough housing to meet the mandates. In the future, a developer of an included parcel will not have to come up with an EIR to move forward, saving time and money and presenting the regional agencies with an acceptable, practical plan to have Sonoma County’s housing fund allotments approved by the 2023 deadline.
The two parcels in Glen Ellen belong to Winter, and are located at 950 and 987 Carquinez Ave. and at 13651 & 13675 Arnold Dr. The Arnold Drive building currently hosts Talisman Wine and Opalesce Goldsmith. The proposed rezoning would remove the existing requirement to keep businesses installed facing Arnold and allow for all residential development. There are three “basic” apartments in the front building, over the commercial properties, and two single-family rental homes at the Carquinez addresses, Winter said.
“I’m not building anything now,” Winter said in a phone interview. “Rents don’t justify the expense. It’s a business decision. It is prohibitively expensive. We designed a project, several iterations, spent three years, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the end result was too expensive for [the] Glen Ellen rental market.
“What I’m waiting for now is further development on SDC,” Winter said. “That is the future of Glen Ellen. Once that becomes a more certain project we can proceed to develop.”
The county will be accepting comments on the rezoning draft EIR until June 15. The relevant documents may be found along with directions for submitting comments at www.sonomacounty.ca.gov/PRMD/ Regulations/Housing/Housing-Sites-EIR.