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County panel OKs Springs mixed-use project

The proposed mixed-use project is on Sonoma Highway just south of the Sonoma Charter School.

The proposed mixed-use project is on Sonoma Highway just south of the Sonoma Charter School.

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The proposed mixed-use housing and commercial project in the Springs, just south of the Sonoma Charter School on Sonoma Highway, received a unanimous thumbs-up Thursday from the Sonoma County Planning Commission.

The project consists of a 60-unit family-affordable housing complex, a 40-unit senior-affordable housing complex, a 6,500-square-foot commercial development, a community garden, a shared playground with the Sonoma Charter School and an easement for the Central Sonoma Valley Trail. The housing project is being developed by MidPen Housing, while the commercial aspect is being developed by the Vailetti Family Trust.

The project now heads to the board of supervisors for its approval at its June 10 meeting.

Scott Johnson, MidPen project manager, was pleased with the outcome of Thursday’s hearing.

“We have a July 1 application deadline with the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, which allocates tax credits, which are the main source of funding for public housing,” Johnson said. “It’s a very competitive process.”

The California Tax Credit Allocation Committee administers two low-income housing tax credit programs – a federal program and a state program – in time for the July allocation. Both programs were authorized to encourage private investment in affordable rental housing for households meeting certain income requirements.

The application this July would be for the low-income family units. The application for the low-income senior units would not go in until next July.

“We sell the tax credits to investors who use it as a benefit,” Johnson said. “That’s been the main engine to produce affordable housing projects for the past 30 years.”

If MidPen can get the necessary tax credits in July, it could break ground in March 2015.

Johnson said a number of Valley nonprofits and groups, such as the Sonoma Charter School and the Sonoma Ecology Center, wrote letters of support to the Planning Commission, and two residents, Ruth Robertson and Gina Cuclis, showed up in person to advocate for the project.

“We did have some folks who showed up who expressed concern with the project,” Johnson said. “They were concerned with the traffic and the loss of parking. That’s understandable.”

Johnson said the project will be synchronized with the Highway 12 improvement project.

“A lot of folks have put in a lot of work on this,” he said. “And (1st District Supervisor) Susan Gorin continues to be a strong supporter of the project.”

Sonoma resident Dick Fogg, who sits on the Planning Commission and chaired Thursday’s hearing, was equally pleased.

“This is a big deal,” Fogg said. “It’s a win-win for everyone. It’s long overdue.”

Fogg said MidPen, which will be the owner-operator, runs a good operation. “They’ve got more than 7,000 units that they manage,” he said. It’s a well-run nonprofit. And they’re going to use local contractors as much as possible.”

“That property has been a blight since the hotel burned down (in the late 1970s),” he added.