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Sonoma’s boomlet in new housing on West Spain St.


With the acknowledged need for more housing in Sonoma, it may come as good news that construction is under way, or should start soon, on at least three residential developments inside city limits – all on the same well-traveled residential street.

A total of 32 units on West Spain Street, including seven set aside as affordable housing units, are coming on the market this year or soon thereafter, between Fifth Street West and Sonoma Highway. How affordable they will be for the housing-strapped working family, however, remains an open question.

One of these developments will be at 841-845 W. Spain, currently a collection of eight shaded cottages on a two-acre property. The current owner is Steve Ledson, who went through the application process that started in May 2012 and ended over a year-and-a-half later with final city approval, in November 2013.

“Once a project is approved you’ve still got to get all the plans approved and engineered,” said Ledson, an experienced area developer who seemed resigned to the process. “There’re just so many agencies, nowadays – they’ve got to sign off. It’s a pretty expensive process.”

Plans for this development are for 18 single-family dwellings, including four affordable housing units as stipulated in the City’s General Plan, which calls for 20 percent affordable housing in new developments. They will be arranged around a horseshoe drive to be called Nicora Place, with attached garages, common areas and new trees surrounding the property.

Ledson referenced a very similar project of his called Boccoli Street, on West MacArthur at Second Street West. That also has a horseshoe drive circulating in front of the houses, with similar design features. Twenty-six homes are in the Boccoli development, eight more than the 18 planned for Nicora.

Some of the current residents on West Spain complained about the 60-day notice to vacate, and have sought a consultation with a housing advocacy lawyer. “Two months is not enough time for these families to find a place to move to,” said local advocate Mario Castillo. “I agree that not much can be done, but we still need to bring it light.”

Given that the project was approved over two years ago, and the 60-day notice is standard in Sonoma County, their hopes to fight past the 60-day notice seem slender. There is no “just cause” condition for eviction or vacation of a premises in Sonoma County.

Just to the east, on the other side of the street, work has begun at 800 W. Spain. Seven townhouse units are going up – one of which is designated as an affordable housing unit. That project was approved by the city in late 2014, and construction is well underway, though when the units will come on the market for rental or purchase is not yet known, though the market price will probably be close to $700,000.

The 800 W. Spain property is the site of the former Hansen Hatchery, at one time determined eligible for the historic registry, but which was demolished in 2014 when the elderly resident of the farmhouse became unable to care for the property and it was red-tagged. (A similar situation occurred more recently on Broadway, but that story came to a happier ending when the community stepped up to assist Irma Castillo in her fight to stay at the home in which she has lived for 40 years.)

Down the street at 405 W. Spain, at the corner of Fifth Street West, a seven-unit development on a half-acre lot is poised to get underway this summer. Initially proposed for a commercial development – it’s next door to the Sonoma Market shopping center – that plan was shot down by neighborhood objections and the Planning Commission.

The current plan was approved by the Planning Commission over a year ago, in early 2015. Over this past winter the older homes on the property were demolished in preparation for the construction of the new units – at this point called, generically, Fifth Street West Homes (though the street addresses will remain on West Spain).

The design calls for six two-bedroom, two-bath townhomes, and one one-bedroom, one-bath single story home in a row house style of development. The homes will all have private patios and single-car garages, as well as bicycle parking and common areas.

The seven units will have entrances on West Spain, and one of the units is set aside as an affordable “medium income” housing unit – again, in compliance with the City’s General Plan requirement for 20 percent of new housing be affordable. The two-story apartments would range in size between 1,100-1,250 square feet; the single-story affordable housing unit comes in at 878 square feet.

According to Forrest Jinks, manager of the Altus Equity Group of Santa Rosa which owns the property, construction will begin as soon as the city council approves the last step in the permitting process, the “final map” of the development, though groundbreaking on subsurface features can begin sooner.

Most of the units being built on West Spain look like they’ll come on the market “north of $600,000,” in the words of one of the developers.

Affordable units are likely to be marketed at a somewhat lower rate, which depends on the county’s Community Development Commission definitions of medium affordability (and lower). A family of four might be able to pick up one of the units for about $410,000 on a 30-year mortgage.

Just down the street, another development has been in the planning stages since at least 2013, but at present it’s still mostly a vacant lot. The address of record is 840 W. Napa, because the only home on the lot at present is an older single-family dwelling at that address; its back yard extends a full block to West Spain, a yard currently filled with grass and butterflies.

The project planned for this acre-plus lot, owned by the Rabbitt family of San Francisco, involves developing the site with an 11-unit residential apartment development.

The apartments would take the form of ten “duets” or duplexes, divided between five detached buildings, and one detached unit, stretching from West Napa to West Spain, with a driveway fronting them opening onto the city streets at either end.

The two affordable housing units would both be single story.

But it’s clearly not a project that will break ground anytime soon. But when it does, that will add another nine market-rate houses available, and two more affordable housing units, in an increasingly difficult market for living affordably in Sonoma.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.