In a move that could carry repercussions for a tentatively approved housing proposal at 899 Broadway, the Sonoma City Council on Monday delayed a final vote on the project in order to await a state ruling on whether Councilmember Amy Harrington would have to recuse herself from the final decision.
The delay drew swift rebukes from the project developers who later in the week threatened legal action against the city if the project isn’t approved.
What’s been dubbed the Gateway Project – a proposed mix of 33 residential units and 3,100 square feet of commercial space at the long-abandoned site of the old Sonoma Truck and Auto – was initially approved May 10 by the Sonoma Planning Commission. An appeal of the decision, filed by neighbors, was subsequently denied last month in a 3-2 vote by the Sonoma City Council, with council members Amy Harrington and Rachel Hundley dissenting.
It appeared at the time that the Gateway Project was in the clear to move forward.
But, as former councilmember Ken Brown quipped at this week’s council meeting, “Nothing is easy.”
When the council met Nov. 5 – in which the project appeared on the “consent calendar,” an often perfunctory final vote by the council – Councilmember Amy Harrington, a practicing attorney, raised concern over whether the recent relocation of her attorney’s office to space at 846 Broadway, directly adjacent to the Gateway Project site, would create a conflict of interest.
Harrington asked the council to hold off on its vote and allow her time to seek guidance from the state Fair Political Practices Commission about a potential recusal. The FPPC requests at least 21 days to issue such a ruling but, noted Sonoma City Manager Cathy Capriola, its response times can often take longer. The current council’s next scheduled meeting is Dec. 3, but there’s no guarantee an FPPC decision will be made by then.
If the FPPC takes longer than 21 days to decide on Harrington’s standing, the delayed vote could run up against the Dec. 10 meeting in which newly elected council member Logan Harvey will be seated behind the dais, following his victory in the Nov. 6 election in which Councilmember Gary Edwards, who has voted in support of the Gateway Project, did not seek re-election. If the new council is seated when the continued vote returns to the agenda, the 3-2 denial of the appeal could swing the other way, ostensibly putting its planning commission approval in jeopardy.
Edwards described Harrington’s request to move the vote as a “delay tactic.”
“This is a slap in the face of affordable housing,” Edwards said, referring to the project’s eight 486-square-feet one-bedroom apartments. “It’s interesting that all of a sudden you just decide to move. I just think it’s a delay tactic. Period.”
Harrington, in response, said the suggestion that she would move her office near the project solely to delay its approval vote was “insane.”
“To accuse me of that is shocking,” said Harrington. “I am asking to get an FPPC letter. That’s not destroying affordable housing in Sonoma.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Gateway Project developer Scot Hunter pleaded with the council to “take your vote tonight,” pointing out that with the 3-2 vote in favor of the project, whether Harrington recused herself or voted against it, the outcome would remain the same if the vote were taken that night.