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News: 02/15/2015

Hearing set on Elnoka ridgeline issue

On Feb. 26, the City of Santa Rosa Planning Commission will consider whether or not the developer of the Elnoka retirement community project can build on what the city has designated as a ridgeline.

The developer, Oakmont Senior Living (OSL) has not officially filed plans for the 479-unit Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), which would include single-story homes, units in three story buildings, a medical/assisted care building, and recreational facilities.

Before they embark on what will surely be a lengthy planning process for the entire CCRC, the issue of the ridgeline stands in the way and could potentially send the developer back to the drawing board. Various OSL ideas for part or all of the 68-acre Elnoka property off of Sonoma Hwy. near Melita Road date back eight years, marked by disputes with adjacent Oakmont until officials for that 55 and older community agreed to support the current CCRC plans.

According to those plans, the CCRC’s single story homes would be built on what the city’s General Plan in 2002 labeled as a ridgeline, a topographic feature that met the city’s definition of a ridgeline, which broadly stated is, “a line following the highest point formed by the meeting of slopes.”

This ridge presently has three structures on it, and is the upper portion of an area heavily graded by a previous developer in the 1990s. According to city planning documents, the ridgeline extends approximately 1,500 feet across about eight parcels, with the top of the ridge varying in elevation from 430 to 446 feet. Behind the property is Annadel State Park, which reaches a ridge height of over 900 feet. The ridgeline at issue is also lower than the ridgeline within Oakmont next door.

OSL wants the ridgeline designation removed from the city’s General Plan, arguing that assigning that label was an error.

“The intent of the General Plan Ridgeline Ordinance is to prohibit any development on hillsides or ridgelines that would interrupt the skyline,” said Steve McCullagh, project manager with OSL. “In 2002, it appears the City arbitrarily designated a ridgeline on our site, without any established criteria, since the City cannot produce any findings as to why they designated our property as a ridgeline.”

McCullagh said OSL, as requested by city planners, has submitted a three-dimensional visual analysis that he says illustrates that the development fits within city zoning rules and would not interrupt the skyline, therefore the ridgeline designation was unwarranted and its removal justified.

The position of city planners has been that the ridgeline designation in the General Plan documents is not an error. However, said City of Santa Rosa Senior Planner Joel Galbraith, that doesn’t mean the Planning Commission can’t consider the overall merits to OSL’s request, and that it’s possible to build on a ridgeline in an environmentally sensitive manner that could fit the city’s general Plan and design policies.

A staff report is being prepared by Galbraith and will be available for public review a week before the Feb. 26 hearing. The Planning Commission meeting begins at 4 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers, 100 Santa Rosa Ave. in Santa Rosa.

Public input on the proposal is ongoing, and at press time there were three letters from nearby residents opposing the removal of the ridgeline designation. There were 12 letters supporting OSL’s request, including one from the Oakmont Village Association (OVA) Board of Directors. The OVA and OSL have entered into an agreement stating in part that the OVA would actively support the CCRC project. To that end, Oakmont officials have been strongly encouraging Oakmont residents to send letters of support to city planning staff and the Santa Rosa City Council.

For more information on the project or to give your opinion, contact Senior Planner Joel Galbraith at 543-3215, or

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