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Permit Sonoma releases draft environmental impact report for the SDC

Permit Sonoma releases draft environmental impact report for the SDC
A utility cover on the east side of the Sonoma Developmental Center. This area is proposed to be redeveloped into housing.Photo by Paul Goguen

By Melissa Dowling

On Wednesday, Aug. 10, Permit Sonoma released the draft environmental impact report (EIR) and Specific Plan for the future redevelopment of the property historically occupied by the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) in Eldridge, which is surrounded by Glen Ellen. The EIR evaluated 16 key areas related to the development proposed in the Specific Plan, as well as two lower-density alternatives, and the option of not proceeding with a project.

While the EIR found significant and unavoidable impacts in the areas of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and historic preservation, environmental impacts from the preferred plan are largely comparable to the lower-density alternatives, while being more “fiscally feasible and providing more housing,” according to a press release from Permit Sonoma, the county planning agency.

If enacted, the draft SDC Specific Plan is described as a “transformative effort that charts the future of the Sonoma Valley.” The proposed plan includes: — open space protection for 700 acres and preservation of Sonoma Creek; — 1,000 housing units, with 283 units of affordable housing; — creation of more than 900 “diverse living-wage jobs” in an economy dominated by agriculture and hospitality; — a walkable core with transit, pedestrian, and bike paths to provide alternatives to automobile use; — institutional uses focused on research and education, also driving employment; and — commercial, recreational, and civic uses accessible to site residents and employees, and others in the greater Sonoma Valley.

Public comment and participation on the proposed plan identified three key areas of concern studied in the draft EIR: open space and wildlife, water, and wildfire and evacuation. “The draft EIR determined the proposed Specific Plan would not create significant and unavoidable impacts in these areas,” the release states.

The plan responded to public feedback by providing extensive wildlife and open space protection, permenantly protecting 700 acres of open space, establishing 50-foot creek setbacks, and setting light pollution policies that prevent significant impacts from the project.

The SDC team at Permit Sonoma worked with officials from the Sonoma Valley Fire District and Sonoma County Department of Emergency Management to evaluate how the proposed redevelopment would impact response in the event of wildfire. “A staffed fire station and a new connection to Highway 12 would both help emergency response,” the release stated. The EIR also found the proposed redevelopment plan would not “substantially impair an adopted emergency response plan or emergency evacuation plan,” according to the release.

According to the EIR, the “proposed plan would not substantially deplete groundwater supplies.” Valley of the Moon Water District will be able to “meet all future demands in normal and multiple dry years from 2025 through 2045,” the release states.

“Significant and unavoidable impacts in the areas of VMT and historic preservation” are noted in the EIR. While the plan involves significant historic preservation, including the reuse of the Main Building and Sonoma House, there would be “significant and unavoidable impacts to contributing buildings in the buildout of the campus.”

The proposed plan includes “innovative policies: to reduce VMTs, like establishing a transportation management agency to lessen automobile demand and multimodal transportation improvements.” However, the release acknowledged it is “unclear exactly how successful the strategies will be in fully offsetting the effects of induced trips.”

Shuttered in 2018, the SDC provided services to people with developmental disabilities for more than 120 years and was, for a time, Sonoma County’s largest employer. The property encompasses the historic campus, agricultural lands, and open space that abuts state and regional parkland. Rehabilitation and infrastructure costs are estimated at $100 million, according to Permit Sonoma. The release also reiterates that, according to state law, “redevelopment of the SDC [must] prioritize housing, especially affordable housing and housing for people with developmental disabilities. State law also requires that the redevelopment project be economically feasible.”

Permit Sonoma will seek public comment on the draft EIR for 45 days, beginning Aug. 10 and running through Sept. 23. A public meeting will be held Aug 24. See meeting details in the Community Calendar on page 3 of this issue of the Kenwood Press . The complete draft EIR is available for review at Permit Sonoma at 2550 Ventura Ave. in Santa Rosa, and online at Comments on the draft EIR can be submitted in writing or via email to: Brian Oh, Comprehensive Planning Manager, Permit Sonoma, County of Sonoma, 2550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95403, or by emailing [email protected]