SVCAC approves Springs project

In a unanimous vote, the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission signed off Wednesday on the proposed Springs mixed-use affordable housing project.

While some of the commissioners had concerns with various parts of the project on Sonoma Highway, just south of the Sonoma Charter School, their concerns weren’t enough to warrant a single “no” vote.

The project, 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, proposed by MidPen Housing and the Vailetti Family Trust, is next headed for a hearing with the county Planning Commission sometime in April. From there, it is expected go to the Board ofSupervisors in either May or June.

“We’re on an aggressive schedule,” Scott Johnson, MidPen project manager, told the panel.

He said what makes affordable housing affordable is low-income tax credits, and the county is fast tracking the project’s land-use applications so that MidPen can then go to the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee (CTCAC), which 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.

Johnson said if MidPen gets the tax credits in September, it would have 150 days to start pulling permits.

The first phase would be the infrastructure – the utilities. Then MidPen could start construction on all but the senior complex, which would be about a year behind the family complex.

Johnson said that MidPen would seek out a contractor who pays prevailing wage and would encourage the contractor to hire local subcontractors. “We don’t have anything specific to require local subcontractors, but our policy is local hires,” he said.

Replying to another question, he said that the nonprofit has to document income certification for the units. And he said at least one member of the household must be a documented citizen.

The commissioners praised the proposal, with Kirsten Lindquist calling it “an exciting project.”

There were concerns about traffic, even with a redesigned Highway 12, but MidPen’s traffic engineer told the panel that the complex would only add 47 additional trips during the morning rush hour, and 65 in the evening rush. Greg Carr, an emeritus member of the panel and a former planning commissioner, said the county looked at a five-lane Highway 12 some years back, but rejected it because it would cut right through businesses.

Commissioner Rochelle Campana questioned the number of units – 100 between the family and senior complexes – but Johnson said the number was appropriate and feasible. “We need minimum thresholds,” he said. “The density is in line with accepted densities.”

The density was also raised by one of the four members of the public who spoke. Three praised the project while the fourth, Stewart Meyn, said he thought there were too many units and he suggested cutting the number by 20 to 25 percent.

Campana also raised the density question again and said she thought it was “too big. Too dense. It feels very urban.” But fellow commissioner Ditty Vella pointed out, “You won’t get rents of $389 a month without density.”

Praising the project, Commissioner Cynthia Wood said, “There’s never been enough affordable housing in the Valley. There’s a need for good housing.”

Commission Chair Mark Bramfitt, prior to voting on the motion, said the project looks good and is welcomed by the community. A 9-0 vote sealed the deal.