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News: 03/15/2015

Developers: Elnoka project at risk

A recent City of Santa Rosa Planning Commission decision to keep a designated ridgeline on the Elnoka property has developers planning a 479-unit senior oriented project asserting that the entire proposal is now in jeopardy.

At its Feb. 26 hearing, the Planning Commission denied the request by developer Oakmont Senior Living (OSL) for a General Plan amendment to remove an identified ridgeline from a map. OSL had argued the designation was made in error when the map was developed over 10 years ago as part of an update of the city’s General Plan.

OSL has appealed the Planning Commission’s 5-1 decision to the Santa Rosa City Council, which is scheduled to hear the matter at its meeting on April 14.

The ridgeline is currently partially developed with three single-family homes. OSL wants the 1,500-foot ridgeline designation removed to avoid any potential issues down the line when plans are officially filed for a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). Part of that project would include 30 single story homes in the ridgeline area. The current CCRC plan would also include units in three story buildings, a medical/assisted care building, and recreational facilities.

“The Planning Commission’s denial definitely threatens the viability of developing the overall 65 acres,” said Steven McCullagh, project manager with OSL.

At the Feb. 26 Planning Commission hearing, McCullagh said OSL can’t go through the time and significant expense in filing the CCRC plan with a chance that someone could raise a “red flag” regarding the ridgeline down the line and seriously delay or lead to a possible defeat of the project.

The city’s definition of a ridgeline is broadly stated as, “a line following the highest point formed by the meeting of slopes.” There can be development on a ridgeline as long as it doesn’t “interrupt the skyline” and is consistent with General Plan policies. Annadel State Park rises behind the Elnoka property.

OSL conducted a visual analysis for the hearing, showing what potential development of one-story homes on the ridgeline would look like. Based on this analysis, city planning staff prepared an initial environmental study that concluded that it’s possible to develop low-rise buildings on the ridgeline without a significant visual impact.

Commissioners debated over what the ridgeline map in question, which also graphically identifies ridgelines in other areas of Santa Rosa, was actually meant to signify – was it just for informational purposes, or an illustration meant specifically to prohibit any development? They also wondered what the overall development impact would be, if any, of removing this one ridgeline from the map.

While commissioners said they understood that OSL would like some level of comfort to go forward with a major development, some were uncomfortable with taking up the ridgeline issue without seeing the complete project application at the same time.

In the end, commissioners decide to deny OSL’s General Plan amendment request by a 5-1 vote.

Another concern of OSL’s has been garnering the support of the adjacent Oakmont community on any project they bring forth, given the senior community’s political clout in Santa Rosa.

Some eight years ago, OSL filed plans for a multi-family housing project on a portion of the property. This was strongly and vocally opposed by Oakmonters, who demanded that anything built on the property should be oriented towards seniors. Senior housing and nursing activities had been planned for that location in the 1990s by another developer.

OSL eventually changed the project to senior housing and facilities, and then entered into an agreement with the Oakmont Village Association (OVA) that stated that OVA would “actively support” this kind of development. Oakmont representatives were on hand at the Planning Commission meeting to support OSL’s request that the ridgeline be removed, also stating that the CCRC is “highest and best use” for the 65-acre property.

OSL is fearful that without the removal of the ridgeline, development plans might have to significantly change to something that would not get Oakmont political support.

“We are very concerned that the support of the Oakmont Village Association and the project as whole are in jeopardy,” wrote OSL’s McCullagh in an email.

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