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Planning Commission ignores neighbor concerns on Nicora Place

Valley Forum

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By Ellen Williams and Maia Craig

 

We attended the City Planning Commission meetings regarding the Nicora Place development planned for West Spain Street. Many people from the neighborhood wrote letters and spoke about how they will be negatively impacted by this development (18, three-bedroom, two-story buildings on a parcel approximately two acres in size).

It will mean a dense wall of buildings facing neighbors on all sides, loss of light and privacy, in addition to making it very difficult to make turns onto Spain from driveways and Junipero Serra, putting drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians at further risk.

There have been many meetings, at which speakers have presented well-researched points, describing the negative impact this development will have on our daily lives. This is a group of informed, thoughtful people concerned that their lives and property values will be negatively changed forever.

Our question now, after the Planning Commission perfunctorily approved the project: What is the point of having all these review sessions? It truly appeared that the members of the Planning Commission were, by law required to listen, but nothing that was said or written would give them the energy to propose modifications based on their hearings. Possible modifications could have included a less aggressive density of buildings, a mixture of one-, two- and three-bedroom buildings that are not all two stories.

The developer was adamant that there could be no such modifications because it would not meet his business needs. The developer was also adamant that it was not the job of the Planning Commission to modify his design. And that was that.

Sad to say, we have lost faith in this system. Why is it more important that the developer make his designated price points than that neighbors lose both property value and quality of life?

The Planning Commission appeared to be lacking any proactive energy to modify this development. We might as well have saved our breath, not bothered to research anything, spent our evenings doing anything but writing letters, going to meetings and trying to communicate our very real concerns. Those of you counting on the Planning Commission to protect your neighborhood from aggressive development, think again.

• • •

  The authors are West Spain Street residents living near the development site.

 

  • bob edwards

    This is why so many Sonoma residents will be voting for Measure B, the hotel limitation measure, on November 19.

    How is Measure B relevant to development projects like Nicora Place? It is an example of how “the existing development review process” is overwhelmingly weighted in favor of big developers and their phalanx of engineers, planners, accountants and lawyers, and the important Quality fo Life interests of “the little people” are given lip-service.

    They realize that “the existing process” — which a City Council majority and the opponents of Measure B say will protect Sonoma against massive hotel developments — simply does not work to protect residents against the relentless power of developers. It cannot be relied on to protect residents from large hotel developments that will destroy the character of Sonoma, any more than it helped the residents of W. Spain Street in their time of need.

  • Phineas Worthington

    There is certainly a need for more housing as evidenced by the exorbitant prices here. As upsetting as these changes can be for people who are used to the way things are, the only way to bring housing costs down is to have a better balance of supply and demand. The density of units is often disagreeable to owners and developers too, but that is often the only way to comply with building regulations and the general plan. And the most important reason to even do the project in the first place is to meet a market need and make a profit. Without developers and profit, the units lived in by opponents themselves would not exist. While I agree that the impact on the neighbors will be real, I think property values tend to rise over the long term regardless. And newcomers and new families need a place to live too. Growth is inevitable so it is better to manage it effectively rather than just say no to everything and pretend it won’t happen as many seem wont to do.

  • Fred Allebach

    There are a number of things happening at once in Sonoma
    city planning. One, any change to an existing stasis will meet resistance by
    those who are effected. With growth and development this is a constant. Somebody
    building next to you and blocking the view is par for the course. In fact, your
    house blocked somebody else’s view in the past. Two, to keep open space and the
    special pastoral feel of Sonoma County overall (which is really nice and
    special), policies such as growth boundaries encourage infill and more
    centralized development. Hence two at-odds factors are driving local conflict:
    generic resistance to change at the level of one’s back yard and pressure for
    infill.

    In my opinion, infill is a good planning idea regardless of
    whether there is a growth boundary or not. But we have a growth boundary. One
    consequence of the growth boundary is that it puts an artificial limit on space,
    drives up property values and creates an exclusive enclave. Many in the enclave
    like the stasis yet the boundary itself makes it so infill is the only option
    for any development. Infill comes at a cost: the collective becomes more
    important than individual prerogative. One big sticking point: who decides what
    the collective really wants? Collectively based decisions by city planners,
    politicians, ballot initiatives, big money etc will be resisted by anyone
    seeing their interests infringed. Since we live in a society, some collective
    infringement has to happen. Unfortunately we have a winner take all system and
    collective progress is frequently achieved only over the sour grapes of the
    infringed losers. Yet, no group that participates in society with good faith
    can be infringed all the time, and if there will be any justice and equal
    access for developers, existing residents, businesses and the working class,
    somehow the exclusive enclave stasis of Sonoma has to be broken or managed
    differently. As I see it one solution is to enlarge the boundary.

    Currently, if nothing can happen at the boundary and nothing
    can be done in town, this is nothing more than a NIMBY checkmate. Part of the
    problem in Sonoma IS the growth boundary. All development pressure, including
    housing, is focused on an increasingly smaller space with the Plaza as the
    center. Yet the municipality only represents 10,000 people inside an artificial
    line while the rest of the population with a stake in regional issues is
    disenfranchised. Buyers of new and old homes, renters, all have to pay
    inflated, airport type prices not only for housing but everything else as well,
    reflecting the exclusivity of the enclave. Different entities benefit from and
    see the exclusivity in different ways, residents get the nice neighborhoods,
    businesses get the tourists coming to appreciate the small town feel, the city
    gets big tax money from the inflated values, workers have a nice, affluent
    clientele. Ironically, big money is attracted to the exclusivity and preserving
    the boundary only makes it more attractive to forces that want to dilute it. Everybody
    seems to like Sonoma just fine, although for different reasons. The core
    problem now is that the cage is too small and the rats are getting antsy. Hence
    trouble with infill development decisions, by whatever controlling entity.

    Furthermore, the growth boundary also messes up fair
    infrastructure access at the edges of town.
    Some have their wells undercut by vineyards and developments yet they
    can’t get city water. Some get city water along 8th Street East and
    others don’t. All these and the
    previously mentioned problems, like giving residents a voice to vote and elect their
    own representative (Mario Castillo for City Council!) could be solved by making
    Sonoma Valley one municipality, with central planning for the whole regional
    entity and a voice for all residents. The exclusive enclave is nice, yes, but
    it only seems to benefit the few, whoever they are.