Sonoma’s Planning Commission gave granular attention to the Altamira Affordable Housing proposal at their Thursday, Sept. 28 meeting, but at the end of the evening – well past 11 p.m. – they decided to continue consideration until their next meeting, Oct. 12, before making a decision.
Introducing the project to the five sitting members of the commission, Adam Kuperman of SAHA – the Satellite Affordable Housing Associates of Berkeley – said the company had 50 years of experience in 60 affordable housing properties with 3,000 residents, including one in Sonoma, Valley Oak Homes at 875 Lyon St. Kuperman and his colleagues have spent about 20 months on the project, including many meetings with neighbors of the 20269 Broadway project, appearances before the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission and the Planning Commission in study sessions.
Despite their preparation, they couldn’t convince the Planning Commission to adopt the Mitigated Negative Declaration and approve the Use Permit to move to the next stage of a lengthy construction process, at least not on first review.
During that research and development phase, their proposal was honed and refined to slightly decrease the number of living units, from 49 to 48, and significantly increase parking allocation, from 61 to 75 spaces. In addition, the entrance to the property was moved from Clay Street – more about that later – to Broadway, all three-story buildings were lowered to two-story, and more one-bedroom and fewer three-bedroom units were described in their current proposal.
“We are very excited with the evolution of this site plan,” Kuperman said, and almost every speaker, commissioner and public alike, applauded SAHA’s efforts and acknowledged the need for more affordable housing in Sonoma. As Planning Director David Goodison made clear, the Altamira project would fulfill the city’s General Plan goal of 47 extremely-low, very-low and low-income homes, and go a long way toward meeting one of the community’s oft-stated goals. He concluded his presentation essentially endorsing the project as conforming to the city’s Development Code and other criteria.
But not everyone thought that alone gave SAHA a pass. Many were concerned about the density of the project – 48 units on less than two acres – and the “massing” or apparent bulk that nine structures on the property presented. The 24-per-acre unit density bonus was accomplished only by drawing upon a “development exclusion” to the city’s Mixed Use density allowance of 20 units per acre.
“Density is reality,” said commission chair James Cribb at one point. “Our community is not a static – it is a growing, vibrant thing. We need to think differently and be doing things differently.” The city’s “infill” policy for new housing is essentially an endorsement of higher residential density, he noted.
Another exclusion – allowed because of the project’s affordable housing goal – was to slip under the parking slot-per-unit requirement of 90 off-street parking spaces for a 48-unit development; 75 is allowed under a state formula of one parking space per one-bedroom unit, two spaces for both two- and three-bedroom units. That would permit 73, so again SAHA’S numbers had a cushion.
But parking continued to be, as it has been throughout the process, a major concern of neighbors particularly on Clay and Bragg streets, to the south and west of the corner lot. SAHA presented evidence that the parking per-bedroom unit was the highest among their projects: Valley Oak Homes, for instance, has 77 bedrooms in 45 units, with 65 parking spaces for a ratio of 1.229 per “designated unit.”