The Sonoma Planning Commission faced seven proposals on its November agenda, matters that had been stacking up over several months of controversy and confusion for the at-times besieged body. The commission has been beleagured by challenges to its decisions and reduced in numbers by term limits, resignations and a failure by the City Council to reappoint.
The Planning Commission’s most recent meeting on Nov. 16 would be its last in its 2017 composition of commissioners. On Monday, the City Council initiated a new method of appointing commission members – effectively ending the terms of the seven-member board and appointing new planning commissioners from a fresh set of applications collected by city staff over the last two months. While current members of the Planning Commission were to be officially removed Monday, they were eligible to reapply for seats along with other members of the community. (The new appoinments were made after the Index-Tribune went to press Monday evening.)
The Council approved its new commission appointment policy in September, which allows each individual council member to select a commission appointee out of a pool of applicants. Each commission appointee serves throughout the term of the council member who appointed them.
The new system replaces the city’s previous process which gave the sitting mayor the task of nominating potential new commissioners, with the full council weighing in for approval – a process that resulted in multiple council debates the last two years when council members had challenged mayoral nominees.
Still, last week the “old” planning commission had several unfinished items to attend to before calling it a day.
The seven items were all originally on the Nov. 9 agenda, but since one of them – consideration of the affordable housing development at 20269 Broadway – was a contentious issue for a variety of reasons, the commission only got through two of the seven at that meeting, and scheduled a special session for Nov. 16 to take up the others.
The housing project from Satellite Affordable Housing Agency – or, SAHA – was itself back for a second hearing before the commission.
The housing proposal for the 1.98-acre lot at 20269 Broadway, includes 48 residences of one-, two- and three-bedroom units for low- and extremely-low-income candidates, plus parking for 75 vehicles and a community center. The Planning Commission members – notably Robert MacDonald, who drilled down on multiple issues of design, architecture, and landscaping – got what they asked for in the revised presentation, according to SAHA’s project manager Adam Kuperman.
“Ultimately we developed a design that was based on the history of the site and took into account the surrounding neighborhood and its location on Broadway,” said Kuperman.
Still, the commission was far from unified in their approval of the project. At one point Commissioner McDonald suggested they approve half the proposal, the environmental review and mitigated negative declaration, but hold over the approval of the use permit, site design and architectural review to the new planning commission.
City Planning Director David Goodison was leery of that suggestion. Were that motion to pass, he said, “the Planning Commission would be continuing the review of the use permit and the design review and the site planning, to a commission that might be totally different.”
“I don’t think that would be fair to that commission, I don’t think it would be fair to the project, I don’t think it would be a good public process,” he said.