Jason Walsh: Altamira project gets go-ahead

Rigorous debate over low-income development a good thing|

“Striving to better,” William Shakespeare warns in “King Lear,” “oft we mar what’s well.”

An undercurrent of that sentiment pervaded the Sonoma City Council meeting Jan. 29, when city officials denied an appeal of a controversial affordable housing proposal – paving the way for construction of a 48-unit low-income development at the south end of Broadway, and dashing the hopes of project critics who argued it was too big, too dense and too out of character with surrounding neighborhoods.

As skeptics reminded the crowd multiple times at the Monday meeting – it would be the densest housing development in the history of Sonoma.

As if, during a housing crisis, that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Opponents of the project urged the council to do its “due diligence” and order an environmental impact report on the proposal in order to better vet potential parking, traffic and noise implications -- studies which city staff had already conducted, but whose conclusions were unsatisfactory to project opponents.

The council, while acknowledging the understandable concerns of the neighbors over a project of this size in their neck of the woods, made little haste in refuting the appeal and, in the words of Councilmember Gary Edwards, getting “shovels in the ground” on this small fraction of a much-needed infusion of affordable housing stock in the Valley.

And, despite how it might seem to some critics of the project, this process has been anything but hurried.

The 2-acre parcel at 20269 Broadway has been targeted as a location for an affordable housing development for over 10 years. Save for a couple of billboards, the site has been a vacant lot for nearly as long. The county redevelopment agency purchased the land back in 2007, using funds supplied for the express purpose of acquiring locations for future affordable housing stock. But after Gov. Brown cut state redevelopment from the budget in 2012, the parcel fell under county control and sat in limbo, while the Sonoma County Housing Authority adjusted to its new role as successor to the defunct CDA.

It wasn’t until 2015 when Satellite Affordable Housing Associates was selected out of seven respondents to an RFP for the development of the site for low- and very-low-income apartments. And in the more than two years since, its proposal has gone before the public at least a dozen times in various hearings, reviews and community information sessions.

To borrow from Alexander Pope, fools have not rushed in toward this development.

That being said, the South Sonoma Group – the collective most vocally skeptical of the project – has been rigorous in its self-appointed role as watchdog over the SAHA proposal, and the project is much the better for it. Among the improvements neighborhood stakeholders spearheaded are the elimination of 3-story buildings, situation of the “community building” in the interior of the complex, the addition of porches to the homes along Clay Street and, perhaps most importantly, moving the location of the entrance driveway to Broadway.

Though they failed in their bid for a project EIR, the South Sonoma Group has achieved some notable successes in its attempts to ensure the Altamira Apartments are an acceptable fit with the community.

But at some point the perfect becomes the enemy of the good. And in the eyes of the Sonoma City Council, that point is now.

Like everyone conceded at the council meeting this week, 48 units will not solve the housing crisis by any means. But it’ll be 48 better than it was.

Like the man said: Shovels in the ground.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

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