Hanna Center proposes 60-acre development in Agua Caliente

A mix of residential and commercial projects are proposed on the long-vacant land behind Hanna Center.|

The Hanna Center is proposing to expand its influence in Sonoma Valley with a 60-acre development to bring mixed-use housing, a hotel and commercial shops to Agua Caliente Road.

Hanna officials sent letters on Jan. 9 to residents near the proposed site for a series of community feedback meetings in a “smaller group setting,” which took place Jan. 17, 19 and 20 at the center.

A Jan. 17 press release by Hanna Center CEO Cameron Safarloo said planning for the proposed development began after Sonoma County’s Housing Element identified the 60-acre parcel as a potential site for future housing.

“We are working on a site plan for the project, and public input at this early state will be helpful. We plan to file an application with the county in mid-2023,” Safarloo said about the proposal’s site plan.

Though planning is in its infancy, the Hanna Center is looking for partners to develop affordable, market-rate and senior housing, “but no definitive decisions have been made.”

The Hanna Center serves youth and their families who have experienced trauma through academic, career and clinical services. The center provides a continuum of care for students to graduate from high school, pursue vocational training and become part of the community with its transitional housing program.

A preliminary proposal

The proposal is still in its “preliminary phase,” according to the letter sent to neighbors, but the goals of the project are clear: create new opportunities for Hanna residents, build new housing and establish a sustainable source of revenue to support the nonprofit Hanna Center.

“(We) envision a project that includes a mix of senior, market-rate, workforce and affordable housing,” Safarloo said in the release. “The plan proposed new amenities such as neighborhood-serving retail and preserved open space.”

The Sonoma County Housing Element, which is still under review by the state’s department of Housing and Community Development, suggests as many as 668 housing units at the Agua Caliente site. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors must find room in the unincorporated areas of the county for a total of 3,824 units of housing, as stated in its Housing Element.

A “large percentage” of the housing at Hanna would be protected for seniors and low-income residents, according to a dedicated webpage on the Hanna’s website, with senior housing functioning as part of a continuum of care, a plan coordinating services and opportunities for program participants.

Those who would qualify for the affordable housing make 80% or less of the area’s average median income, which in Sonoma County was $91,607 in 2021, according to the U.S. Census.

Approximately 20 acres of the proposed site will be left undeveloped for “uses such as bike riding and walking paths.” That leaves approximately 40 acres of the site for commercial and residential development. Hanna Center owns 170 acres throughout Sonoma Valley, and the 60 acres identified have never been developed.

The Hanna Center project proposes 8,000 square feet of commercial space to help cover the cost of the proposed affordable units, which may take shape as a hotel.

“We are considering a hotel on the site to offer accommodations for guests of senior housing residents, Hanna guests as well as visitors to the area,” the press release said.

The proposal also considers the addition of “a preschool/child development facility and a vocational training center,” which could provide a source of mentoring and job training for program participants at Hanna Center.

Neighborhood reaction

The letter to neighbors from Hanna Center made its way onto social media, where neighboring residents responded with mixed-feelings.

Some worried the addition of hundreds of residential units and a potential hotel could create problematic traffic along Agua Caliente Road and Arnold Drive. These commenters likened the project to the Sonoma Developmental Center redevelopment plan, which could add up to 750 housing units just up the road in Eldridge.

“Wow, here we go again. More traffic, need for police, fire protection and what about the water?” wrote Michele Wagner, a resident of El Verano. “After the SDC deal, it’s disturbing.”

Others defended the proposal as a practical solution to address Sonoma Valley’s unaffordable housing crisis. As of Dec. 31, the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Sonoma is $2,100 – a 6% increase over the previous year, according to Zumper, a rental marketplace site.

“Sonoma is embarrassingly behind other counties in availability of affordable housing and there is pressure to fix that. Our lack of affordable housing puts the burden on other Bay Area counties to provide relief,” Darlene DuCharme wrote.

Victor Gonzales, a resident of Loma Vista, said he signed up to attend one of the Hanna Center’s informational sessions and described the correlation of affordability and the number of houses.

“If you want fewer houses, they get bigger and more expensive. If you want middle- to low-income housing, they get smaller and more numerous,” Gonzales wrote. “This development potential by the surplus Hanna land has been rumored for quite a while.”

Development déjà vu

The 60-acre Hanna Center project is not the first attempt to develop the vacant land for residential use near Arnold Drive. Nor is it the first time that neighbors have opposed such a project.

In 2012, a community group formed calling itself Preserve Carriger with the goal of stopping Hanna Center from dividing almost 60 acres of land into six residential parcels.

“Up to three lots of 10 to 12 acres each could then be sold to a developer, making Hanna an estimated $3 million or more – money the nonprofit plans to reinvest in its campus,” the Index-Tribune reported. The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the plan 4-0 in 2014, but the site was never developed.

The new, similarly-sized development also faces opposition, but the proposed projects are noticeably different. The older project focused on selling off acres of land to a private entity for high-end real estate, while Hanna would keep the land in the current proposal, which aims to better serve the community with a mix of developments.

Still, the opposition to development remains fraught over fears of urbanization in the pastoral land and rural neighborhoods along Arnold Drive.

“How is this community going to absorb more traffic congestion? Would this be for families to visit? What are they doing with it. Our little Slownoma is going to be a regular LA if they don’t stop!” Heidi Cullen, an El Verano resident, posted online.

The Hanna Center is planning another pair of public meetings on Tuesday, January 31, at 6 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 5, at 1 p.m. at the Hanna Center Auditorium at 17000 Arnold Drive. Attendees are asked to RSVP at hannacenterproject.com/#project.

Contact Chase Hunter at chase.hunter@sonomanews.com and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter.

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the date of the public meeting for the Hanna Center’s proposed development. The article has been updated to reflect the event is on Tuesday, January 31.

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