Housing debated in Springs Specific Plan

Springs MAC reviewed the EIR for the guiding document meant to imagine the future of Boyes Hot Springs.|

The Springs Municipal Advisory Council reviewed the draft Springs Specific Plan environmental impact report Wednesday, June 8, which sets forth the blueprints of the Springs for the next generation.

The draft EIR lists all potential environmental impacts for new development in Boyes Hot Springs, from traffic congestion and pollution to the creation of a community gathering space and housing projects.

The draft was challenged by some residents of Donald Street, a neighborhood bordering the City of Sonoma and the Springs, who say the plan is unfairly focusing future housing developments in their neighborhood.

“The updated draft plan is, in my mind, one of the most thoughtless and punitive documents I've ever had the misfortune to read,” Paul Rockett said during public comment. “We in the Donald Street area are going to become the graveyard of Supervisor Gorin’s housing.”

Rockett said the suggested development in the Donald Street area would create an “outrageous” level of density that would mark the area for future traffic and pedestrian safety issues.

The Springs Specific Plan, in addition to creating goals for more affordable housing and increased pedestrian safety, would allow businesses and developers to fast track environmental review requirements that are in line with the specific plan. The 608-page draft, which highlights a scope of foreseeable environmental issues, will receive public comment for 60 days before it heads to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for approval.

The draft itself acknowledges “significant and unavoidable impacts” to the visual character of the Donald Street neighborhood based on the medium-density and high-density housing proposed.

Avram Goldman, a former member of the Springs MAC, echoed Rockett’s concerns about density on Donald Street, adding that the affordable housing options in the plan should be earmarked for Springs residents.

“If there is going to be affordable housing, it must be for residents in the Springs. That's the whole idea of affordable housing, to have people that live and work here to have affordable housing instead of bringing in more people,” Goldman said.

On the other hand, the Sonoma Valley Collaborative’s project director Caitlin Cornwall said the group would likely back the draft’s plan to create additional housing options, she said in public comment. The collaborative is a group of more than 25 organizations aimed at addressing the Sonoma Valley housing crisis, environmental sustainability and education.

“We're not completely finalized on this yet but we are likely to be supporting the proposed projects because it makes a good effort at dealing with some of these incredibly urgent housing affordability crisis,” Cornwall said.

She amplified the concerns about who will receive access to the proposed housing in the plan, and whether these new developments could push out current Springs residents.

“The plan right now says that displacement is not an issue because it's going to build more houses,” Cornwall said, “But that does not protect people who live in the Springs now from getting booted from where they are.”

According to the draft, the Plan would not contribute to “substantial numbers of people” being displaced, but would create changes to housing that may impact existing residences.

“There are approximately 557 existing residences (approximately 347 single-family units and 210 multi-family units) located within the Plan area. As build out of the Plan area progresses, it is likely that some of the existing housing units would be remodeled, renovated, expanded on, demolished, or otherwise removed or replaced with new development,” the draft EIR says.

The displacement of Sonoma Valley residents is already occurring through the housing affordability crisis, as the average rent in Sonoma surpasses $2,500 per month this year, according to the apartment listing service RentCafe. Sonoma Valley special education advocate Celeste Winders said her daughter “gave up” searching for housing in Sonoma Valley.

“She just couldn't find a place that she and her husband could afford,” Winders said. “I want people to think about the word ‘affordable.’ ...It doesn't necessarily mean what everyone thinks it means.”

Winders said the county should explore the option for income-restricted housing to help provide what she considers as true affordable housing. Section 8 Housing, she argues, would do more to satisfy the needs of renters and young homeowners in Sonoma Valley.

“That is how we are going to keep our Valley residents and our neighbors as our neighbors,” Winders said. “And that's how we're going to keep our young adults, who are looking to move out, to be able to stay in the Valley that they grew up in.”

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

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