Neighbors disagree on SDC redevelopment plans

More affordable housing, less hospitality, and questions of financial feasibility|

If there was one thing most participants of the SDC Specific Plan’s community workshop could agree on, it’s that they didn’t like any of the proposals offered by the county.

Over 300 people participated in the first virtual community workshop hosted by the Sonoma Developmental Center Specific Plan to review and offer improvements to the three proposals released Nov 1. that envision redeveloping the defunct state hospital for community use.

Even 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin acknowledged that many were “not fond of the alternatives.”

She reiterated that it was rare opportunity to be able to guide the future of the SDC. The project marks the first time the State of California has given local authority the chance to redesign a major piece of state property.

“This site can meet the needs for our community — affordable housing, living wage jobs and certainly the preservation of open space,” Gorin said. “We also know we need to come together on a plan that makes sense financially.”

Representatives from Permit Sonoma and Dyett & Bhatia, the urban and regional planners consulting on the project, provided an overview of the property and how it would change under each alternative proposal.

Alternative A, labeled “Conserve and Enhance,” focuses on preserving historic parts of the property and adding 1,000 units of housing. Alternative B includes 1,300 units of housing but emphasizes “Core and Community” by building a small, self-contained urban center. Alternative C would push into the future by building a regional hub for innovation, bringing in more than 1,000 jobs, along with 1,200 units of housing.

Yet when the 300 attendees were polled in Saturday’s meeting, two-thirds voted to find an alternative outside of those proposed. As participants were put into breakout room to give their opinions in smaller sessions of 10 to 12, the future of those alternatives grew even more dim.

“This entire process up to this point has been a public policy failure,” David Brigode said. “None of these alternatives propose more 310 units of affordable housing.”

Though the proposals all make 25% of the proposed housing affordable — the county requires that “20% of the units in an ownership development must be affordable” — some residents wanted much more. Many asked for the affordable housing ratio to be flipped: 75% affordable verse 25% market rate.

Others criticized the designs’ population density.

“The difference between the size of the home just south of the SDC... and the number of the homes... on the proposed alternative plans, you can see that it’s about three times as dense,” community member Laurie Pile said, “which is not compatible with the surrounding community at all.”

But no idea would be compatible if the project isn’t “financially feasible,” a phrase repeated often throughout the meeting. Though the proposals did not include project costs, the Sonoma County supervisors approved a budget of $40 million for SDC’s redevelopment but estimated the cost to fix the main building alone at $70 million, raising the obvious question: Who will pay for all this?

While little was agreed upon at Saturday’s Zoom workshop, there was one area of common ground. Nearly every group was at odds with the addition of a hotel on the historic site — a feature shared between all three proposals to bring revenue to the site.

Many groups also raised concerns about protecting the wildlife corridor. Some felt that the high density could threaten animal’s migration between the Mayacamas Mountains and the Sonoma Mountains.

“Wildlife isn’t just affected by buildings,” Randy Cook said. “It’s the noise, the intensification of the lighting at night, all of which have very stressful effects on animals and discourage their migration.”

In breakout group 18, members hoped the planners would go back to the drawing board to think of more innovative and creative ideas for housing and financial solutions, while nixing another hotel in Sonoma Valley’s expansive hospitality industry

“Not just affordable housing, but affordable by design. Co-housing, clustering of the housing and keeping the housing away from the wildlife corridor,” Permit Sonoma representative Gabriella Folino said, speaking the members of breakout room 18. “We need come up with other financially creative solutions.”

A second public meeting workshop will be held in Spanish on Nov.16 from 5:30 — 7 p.m. at Hunt Hall inside St. Leo’s Catholic Church at 601 W. Agua Caliente Road.

Planners will review the concerns and notes from the public in the coming weeks, before the Permit Sonoma team is scheduled to choose a “preferred plan” in January 2022.

Contact Chase Hunter at and follow @Chase_HunterB on Twitter

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