31 condos proposed on First Street East in Sonoma

Four projects have been proposed on the site since 2015, but this time, the developers — who are both local residents — took their plans to the neighborhood before they hit City Hall.|

A new Sonoma Valley-based company is proposing a plan to demolish the commercial buildings at 254 First St. E. in Sonoma to build 31 condominium units on the site.

North of the Mission LLC — an entity recently created by former Sonoma City Councilmember Kelso Barnett and Sonoma resident Kilby Stenkamp — presented its plans to neighbors on Saturday before the proposal is submitted to the city for official review.

“The purpose of our meeting was to present the plans for our proposed project to our neighborhood,” Stenkamp said. “We believe the presentation went well and that our plan was warmly received.”

Neighbor Francie Ward had only praise for the project and the developers’ process. “The walk-through of the property helped us put this project in context of its proximity to where all of us neighbors live now. Without walking out there myself, I wouldn’t have guessed what a large undeveloped parcel there is here in the middle of our neighborhood,” she wrote after the meeting. “FYI, I haven’t heard any complaints from anyone.”

The LLC — which includes additional investor partners from the neighborhood — acquired the property on June 1, and has been developing and refining the project over the past three months.

The proposal calls for the construction of six buildings, with 20 850-square-foot, one-bedroom units; one 800-square-foot, one-bedroom unit; five 1,878-square-foot, two-bedroom units; and four 1,214-square-foot, two-bedroom units.

254 First St E project.pdf

Buildings would mainly be two-story structures, although five units have minimal third floors and roof decks.

According to project documents, it is meant to be “affordable by design” with smaller units that could appeal to young families and retirees. “To meet the 25% inclusionary affordable housing requirement for the nine units that exceed 850-square feet, two of the units will be made available for a low-income and moderate-income buyer, with the additional .25 unit being paid as an in-lieu fee into Sonoma’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund,” according to documents.

Barnett said that this is the fourth project to be proposed at the site in eight years and, since the parcel has been designated as a housing opportunity site by the city, he believes it is very likely to be redeveloped soon. But, as locals, it was important to take the project to the neighborhood before it reached City Hall.

“As neighbors to this site, we’ve decided to match the talk of the need for housing in our community with action, and not rely on others to develop the future of both our neighborhood and the city of Sonoma,” he said. “We hope to counter the ‘developer versus neighbor’ narrative by demonstrating a new model for real estate development in Sonoma — stepping up, working together and delivering a win-win for our town.”

The site plan also includes a swimming pool and outdoor kitchen facility, along with 40 uncovered parking spaces.

Feedback from neighbors at the meeting on Saturday concerned potential impacts the project could have on nearby developments and specific units, especially related to light and privacy.

“Since our project was designed to mitigate those impacts, the feedback was favorable,” Stenkamp said.

Barnett added, “The positive feedback we received validates our project vision and the design developed by our local architects, Carol Marcus and Bill Willers (of Marcus & Willers Architects). As a result, we do not anticipate making significant changes to our project.”

Currently, the site contains 15,000 square feet of commercial businesses, including Cannon School of Music, Sonoma Car Club, Armando’s Party Rentals and Embassy Flag. The commercial buildings, warehouse and carport would be demolished to make way for the new development.

It’s likely some trees near the southeast corner of the property also would need to be removed. But efforts would be made to preserve oak trees along the southern border of the property as well as to maintain trees along the driveway as a buffer to a single-family home to the north.

North of the Mission’s next step will be to present the project to the city of Sonoma’s Project Advisory Committee to obtain additional feedback from planning, building, engineering and fire officials.

“After we consider all the feedback from the neighborhood and the City, we will then incorporate reasonable changes and submit our finalized plans to the City of Sonoma to begin the entitlement process,” Stenkamp said.

The city then would review the proposal to make sure the project is compliant with the General Plan and development code as well perform an environmental review to make sure it is compliant with the California Environmental Quality Act.

Once all required analysis is determined to be complete, the city would then schedule a public hearing before the Planning Commission. All neighbors within 500 feet of the site would be notified, and the meeting will be open to the public.

“If our project is approved by early next year, we don’t anticipate construction beginning on the site until late 2024 or early 2025,” Stenkamp said.

The parcel at 254 First St. E. originally was developed in the late 1940s by Acme Leather Products, which operated a leather factory adjacent to the railroad until 1963. Peterson Mechanical then acquired the land and operated an industrial sheet metal, plumbing and piping business there until 2000.

Since then, the site has been home to catering, glass-blowing and sign companies, as well as a taxi service dispatch center.

The three other projects that were proposed for the site, including a hotel, since 2015 were strongly opposed by many neighborhood residents.

“The type of land use, density, scale and mass of previous projects proposed for this site were incompatible with our neighborhood and desired future as envisioned by the city of Sonoma’s General Plan,” Stenkamp said.

Barnett added, “Compared to the previous projects that failed, we believe our proposal strikes a better balance between density, compatibility, financial feasibility and our responsibility to be sensitive to both our surrounding neighborhood and the city of Sonoma. Earning support from our neighbors is just as important as winning approvals at the Planning Commission. We hope our proposal will succeed because we’ve done both.”

Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at daniel.johnson@sonomanews.com.

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