Vehicle spaces, occupancy rates at issue in Sonoma's affordable housing project

How much parking is enough?

That was the big question last week when the affordable housing project at 20269 Broadway came before the Planning Commission on Feb. 9, for the latest in a series of hearings on its potential impact on Sonoma. But several members of the public, both in comment before the commission and in remarks among themselves, were clearly dissatisfied with two primary aspects of the current proposal – the number of parking places, and impact on traffic that the development could have.

Planning Commission chair James Cribb made the point that the study session was to review the direction and scope of the CEQA environmental review, under the California Environmental Quality Act, and pointed out that parking was not a consideration in CEQA, but would be discussed at a later date during the “use permit” process. That frustrated several in the audience who nonetheless attempted to raise the issue during the public comment section of the hearing, concerned that too few parking spaces on the 2-acre property would spill over onto street parking in the neighborhood.

The proposal from Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA) of Berkeley has been amended since the previous hearing to add another 11 parking spaces, bringing the total to 72 for the 49-unit complex (with seven for staff and visitors, that leaves 65 for the residents). The number and ratio of one-, two- and three-bedroom units has also been adjusted somewhat. The current plan is for a total of 89 bedrooms, with a preponderance of one-bedroom units (22) that SAHA predicts will be occupied by singles.

According to City Planner David Goodison, who read the staff report on the development to kick off the discussion, “Based on the parking standards for multi-family set forth in the Development Code, the normal requirement for a 49-unit development would be 92 off-street parking spaces, including 49 covered spaces.” He went on to note that “as an affordable housing development, the project qualifies for concessions and incentives with respect to normal zoning standards, including parking requirements.”

A total of 14 units would be two-bedroom units, and 13 would be three-bedroom units. Their estimate of parking needs for the projected population included comparisons with SAHA’s other developments, and their finding that low-income residents generally have fewer vehicles and use them less than the average. Across their portfolio of 60 properties, SAHA noted in the report, parking demand averages .95 vehicles per unit. Their plan for 72 parking spaces for 49 units – and 89 total bedrooms – comes out to 1.469 parking spaces per designated unit.

“The number of spaces we have proposed at this development are more on a per-unit basis than we have at any of our other properties,” said Eve Stewart, SAHA’s director of housing development, “and on an absolute basis, more than we have at our other properties even though some are much larger developments.”

Observers at the study session were skeptical of those figures, however. The change.org petition project critics are circulating online projects as many as 237 expected residents, for which 62 or 72 parking spaces would clearly be inadequate. However, there’s a significant gap between those 237 expected residents and 89 designated units, or bedrooms, in the current SAHA proposal. That would come to 2.66 people per bedroom, an uncomfortable figure.

Kimberly Johnson, one of the community members associated with the website sonomagateway.org (but not speaking for them) spoke to this figure in a message to the Index-Tribune. She said they are “using the California Density Bonus when factoring in occupancy. California Density Bonus is 2 per bedroom plus one on the couch so that is how the math adds up.”

SAHA’s density figures, however, are based on actual residence rates for over 3,000 units they have built in a dozen or so projects, which show a much lower actual rate of 1.28 per one-bedroom unit, 2.42 for a two-bedroom and 3.7 people in a three-bedroom unit. This adds up to 110 residents, the figure they’re projecting for residents at what they are calling the Altamira Family Apartments (an intentional adaptation of the more commonly-used Altimira, named for the Spanish friar who founded the Mission San Francisco Solano).

“Neighbors always have concerns about parking and traffic, which is understandable,” said Stewart. “And the neighborhood has already been impacted by the Lodge for many years. It is unfortunate in an era where we all feel we may be driving less, that we’re going in a direction where we’re providing more parking than we ever have before.”

The Lodge at Sonoma, on Broadway between Clay Street and Leveroni, has a loading dock on Clay Street that has for years caused numerous problems for residents.

“To address those concerns,” Goodison told the Index-Tribune, “there are posted hours for deliveries and, last year, the City agreed to allow the striping of a loading zone along the curb adjoining the dock to ensure that there is a place for larger trucks to pull in without blocking Clay Street.”

The expected next step in the process is to continue working with staff to finalize additional reports and investigations, including traffic and acoustic or noise considerations, and consider evaluating the visual aesthetics of the project, which is at a “gateway” on Sonoma’s southern approach.

“We appreciate that we continue to get comment, from staff and the public, and see how we can improve the design and the overall project,” said Stewart.

“No project is ‘done’ until it is approved,” said Goodison. “The Broadway project has not been approved. As you know, it is still undergoing environmental review. If a majority of the Planning Commissions decide – or on appeal, the City Council – the project could be modified or even denied.”

The next appearance before the Planning Commission is not likely to come before April. And, as Goodison noted in his testimony, “Parking is definitely going to be an issue with the project moving forward.”

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.