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Can the ‘missing middle’ democratize Sonoma’s housing?

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If We Build It, Will They Come? Housing projects currently in the pipeline:

If We Build It, Will They Come? Housing projects currently in the city’s pipeline:

Altamira Apartments

20269 Broadway

48 one, two, and three-bedroom apartments for low and very low income individuals

Status: appeal denied, under construction

Mockingbird Lane Project

853 4th Street West

20 primary residential units with 12 ADUs

Status: under construction

Oliva

655 W. Spain St.

54 affordable units and 24 market-rate units

Status: under construction

Parkview

216, 226, 254 First Street East.

80-bed senior care facility with 27 multi-family apartments

Status: application in process

Gateway Mixed-Use

870 Broadway

23 townhouses, 8 apartments, 8 flats, and 4,100 square feet of commercial space

Status: appeal denied; use permit approved; lawsuit filed by the “Friends of the Broadway Corridor.”

Taub Apartments

18410 Sonoma Highway

12 apartments and 2 live/work spaces

Status: mitigated negative declaration revised 8/18

Liam Lane Place

249 First Street West

Four single family homes where a single home previously stood on a .67-acre lot

Status: application continued

Broadway Housing Project

1211 Broadway

1 restored and relocated historic home, 2 duplexes, 1 single family residence

Status: application updated 12/2019

Spotlight on housing: Has Sonoma Valley’s “housing crisis” reached a tipping point? Many think so and are calling for action. But action from whom, and action as to what? In Part 2 of this series focused on Sonoma Valley housing needs, Index-Tribune reporter Kate William focuses upon the ‘missing middle,’ and looks at housing options outside the traditional single-family home and apartment paradigm.

In the last half century of housing, U.S. homes have largely fallen into one of two categories: single-family units meant to shelter individuals and families independently, or apartment complexes meant to shelter them in groups.

Zoning laws established nationally in the 1940s discouraged construction of the latter in proximity to the former which, over time, accelerated an increase in the separation of economic classes and sprawl. People found themselves living among others of similar circumstance – in either higher-priced single-family-home neighborhoods or in more crowded apartment-building neighborhoods – while cities crept steadily outward, gobbling green space.

But now housing activists, city planners and building professionals are advocating a third way, a middle path to address the country’s housing crisis and what’s become known as the “missing middle.”

The “missing middle” takes a hybrid approach to development — and it is being tested in cities everywhere.

Teri Shore, an environmentalist who lives in the Springs, believes there are multiple solutions to the housing shortage, if people, politicians and developers are willing to think creatively.

“Cottage housing, pocket neighborhoods, accessory dwelling units and junior accessory dwelling units can all be part of the solution,” said Shore, the North Bay director of the Greenbelt Alliance, a nonprofit urban planning organization. “Sonoma is not an island. The housing crisis is the county, the Bay Area, the state, the nation.”

Shore maintains there are many reasons for the crisis locally and elsewhere, from political polarization and rising prices due to the flush Bay Area tech industry to the practical expression of municipal funding decisions. But she also sees solutions beginning to take shape.

POCKET NEIGHBORHOODS

Shore points to Keller Court Commons in Petaluma as an example of a successful pocket neighborhood. Designed to optimize land use and increase human connection, it houses eight 1,500-square-foot solar-powered, radiant-heat homes, all anchored by a common courtyard. The homes have small private yards and detached garages.

“This is smart growth infill,” said project developer Jim Soules. “It’s housing for a group of community-minded people who want to live a more sustainable, green lifestyle.”

But when Keller Court first went on the market last year, Soules couldn’t find a single realestate agent willing to help sell the homes, and described the initial response from the community as cautious. People seem to want things to stay the same, he said.

“Like when I wired the garages to accommodate electric vehicles, I had a whole bunch of people wondering ‘why’d you do that?’” Soules said. “Isn’t it obvious? Times are changing.”

COTTAGE HOUSING

Cottage housing can look a lot like pocket neighborhoods do, but it is sometimes designed for people in special circumstances. Quinn Cottages, in Sacramento, holds 60 one-bedroom cottages on 2.65 acres and is designed to serve as transitional housing for the homeless. There are shared amenities, like a library and industrial kitchen, and a “rigorous and comprehensive program” from which residents “graduate,” according to the Quinn Cottages website.

If We Build It, Will They Come? Housing projects currently in the pipeline:

If We Build It, Will They Come? Housing projects currently in the city’s pipeline:

Altamira Apartments

20269 Broadway

48 one, two, and three-bedroom apartments for low and very low income individuals

Status: appeal denied, under construction

Mockingbird Lane Project

853 4th Street West

20 primary residential units with 12 ADUs

Status: under construction

Oliva

655 W. Spain St.

54 affordable units and 24 market-rate units

Status: under construction

Parkview

216, 226, 254 First Street East.

80-bed senior care facility with 27 multi-family apartments

Status: application in process

Gateway Mixed-Use

870 Broadway

23 townhouses, 8 apartments, 8 flats, and 4,100 square feet of commercial space

Status: appeal denied; use permit approved; lawsuit filed by the “Friends of the Broadway Corridor.”

Taub Apartments

18410 Sonoma Highway

12 apartments and 2 live/work spaces

Status: mitigated negative declaration revised 8/18

Liam Lane Place

249 First Street West

Four single family homes where a single home previously stood on a .67-acre lot

Status: application continued

Broadway Housing Project

1211 Broadway

1 restored and relocated historic home, 2 duplexes, 1 single family residence

Status: application updated 12/2019

Cottages at Mattituck in Suffolk County, New York, offers 22 units of income-restricted workforce housing. And Cottages on Greene in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, is a mixed-income development located near the city’s historic downtown that emphasizes a walkable, smaller-scale, urban living environment.

“We want people of all incomes living together,” Shore explained. “We don’t want all the lower income people on the edge of town. It’s segregationist. And if we want to be climate resilient and reduce our driving and climate emissions, we need to focus our new homes next to existing services. Studies show that everybody does better when they live closer to each other and a healthy, thriving community.”

ACCESSORY DWELLING UNITS

Even in the more rural parts of the Sonoma Valley, where single family homes are the norm, the politics of development have begun to shift. Last year, Permit Sonoma issued an ordinance to allow single-family properties to become a part of the “missing middle” trend by adding what the industry has dubbed accessory dwelling units (ADUs), aka granny units.

ADUs, according to county codes, are structures of up to 1,200 square feet, detached from or attached to a single-family home. Formerly referenced as “granny units” or in-law units, ADUs can double, triple, or even quadruple the occupancy load of properties previously zoned single family, depending on lot size. ADUs are intended to provide long-term shelter for individuals and families, and Permit Sonoma’s 2018 ordinance prohibits ADUs from becoming vacation rentals, or from being monetized as time shares.

In Boyes Hot Springs, where lots are often as small as one-eighth of an acre, a simple garage conversion can result in a whole new residence. A 320-square-foot garage conversion on Cherry Avenue will even have its own street address, according to one homeowner, though share electricity and water hook-ups with the main house. Still, when the project is complete this summer, he hopes to rent the space to a long-term tenant.

JUNIOR ACCESSORY DWELLING UNITS

Junior accessory dwelling units (JADUs) function like ADUs, but are limited to 500 square feet and are carved from an existing footprint. JADUs are seen by planners as one solution to the housing inventory shortage, as well as way for seniors to “age in place.”

“Let’s say you’re a senior or a senior couple in a big house and you no longer have kids but you can’t afford to move,” Shore said. “You could add a JADU inside your house so you’d get help with expenses and add housing inventory without having to live with roommates in the traditional sense.”

Currently, the county is fast-tracking ADUs and JADUs through the permitting process to help restore housing inventory lost in the 2017 fires.

“It’s an inexpensive way to develop smaller, more affordable rental housing units, and creates more variety of housing types to meet the need of a varied population,” said Maggie Fleming of Permit Sonoma. Currently, there are 1,300 ADUs and JADUs permitted countywide, and 330 in the Sonoma Valley.

BIG PICTURE

In the City of Sonoma, where new construction is often contested and the permitting process tends to be complicated, the general trend is toward innovative density. Seven projects currently working their way through the pipeline all propose a mix of housing types, or uses that blend shelter with work. And Sonoma’s development code requires that 20 percent of all developments of more than five units be reserved for low- and very-low-income units.

“Housing for median and above-median is taken care of by the market — our city doesn’t have a problem there,” said Sonoma Planning Director David Storer. “The struggle is the low- and very-low-income categories.”

Storer said some cities allow developers to “cash out” and pay what are called “in lieu” fees – in lieu meaning “instead of” – in place of the required inclusionary housing. In other words, pay for the affordable units to be built elsewhere or stashed in a city housing fund.

“The cool thing about our city is we require the low income units to be built on site,” said Storer.

The Altamira Family Apartments, a 48-unit affordable housing development currently under construction on a 2-acre parcel at 20269 Broadway, reflects a more traditional approach to housing. Developed by the nonprofit Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA), the project will provide four dozen one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments reserved exclusively for low-income and very-low-income tenants.

Is it the healthiest way for a small city to grow? “Well, that’s a hard question,” Storer said. “But local agencies should provide housing for all economic segments of the community.”

Contact Kate at kate.williams@sonomanews.com.

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