South Lot design to ‘mimic’ Sonoma

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Planning Commission

The Sonoma Planning Commission meets at 6:30 on Thursday, Jan. 10, at the City Council Chambers, 117 First St. W.

As well as discussing Mockingbird Lane, several other small projects will be evaluated. Another DeNova project, a 30-unit apartment community at 655 W. Spain St. (Olivia Apartments) is listed as "withdrawn" but Trent Sanson of DeNova confirms that the project has already been approved by the Planning Commission and Design Review, with only building and grading permits to be issued.

The full agenda for the meeting is posted on the City of Sonoma website at this address.

A planned residential community on the 2.7-acre lot at West MacArthur and Fourth Street West – known as “the South Lot” when it was owned by Sonoma Valley Healthcare District in recent years – comes before the Sonoma Planning Commission on Thursday, Jan. 10.

The proposal, from DeNova Homes of Concord, would subdivide the parcel into 18 residential lots with 20 primary units, as well as 12 accessory dwelling units.

The lot is situated between Fourth Street West and Hayes Street to the west, bounded by MacArthur on the south side and the hospital’s existing parking lot on the north side.

The development, which was initially proposed under the name “Athena,” is now being called “Mockingbird Lane,” a sobriquet given by DeNova to reflect that the development will be designed to “mimic the existing character of the surrounding community and the City of Sonoma, just as mockingbirds mimic the songs and sounds of other birds,” according to DeNova’s project description.

The so-called South Lot, purchased by the Sonoma Valley Health Care District in 2016 as a potential expansion property, proved to be more problematical for the cash-strapped hospital than beneficial. The hospital sold the parcel to DeNova in 2017 for between $3 million and $4 million.

Healthcare District Board Chair Joshua Rymer said the hopsital simpy didn’t need the land.

“Over time it has become even clearer that community hospitals will not require or benefit from ever-increasing physical footprints,” said Rymer. “In fact, with the secular decline in in-patient volumes, (the hospital) will likely require smaller physical facilities.”

DeNova proposes “Sonoma/Craftsman inspired architecture” for the residential units, presumably to “mimic” local architectural styles. Six different building plans on varied lot sizes will be previewed at the Jan. 10 meeting, ranging from two 1,305-square-foot duplexes to four 2,708-square-foot to two-story homes with wrapped porch for the MacArthur Street frontage.

Of the 20 units proposed, the city’s requirement that 20 percent be “inclusionary,” or below-market rate, results in two units priced for low-income applicants and two for moderate income. The two smaller 2-story duplex buildings are set aside for these lower-income units.

Overall, the residential community will consist of “alley style homes” with garages accessed from a crisscross of alleys or private streets that transect the property. A total of 68 onsite parking spaces are provided for the project, consisting of 40 garage spaces, four covered carport spaces and 24 uncovered spaces along the driveways.

A total of 68 parking spaces are proposed – two inside each garage, four covered spaces in car ports, and another 24 onsite parking spaces.

The project would include the removal of one tree – a green ash, with a 30-inch-wide trunk – the only tree on the to-be-developed property. An arboist’s survey found the tree, currently untended and surrounded by “suckers and volunteers,” not suitable for preservation. Trent Sanson of DeNova said final landscaping plans will be deferred to the design review stage of approval.

The property is still technically owned by the hospital pending the project’s approval, at which point DeNova will purchase the lot and subdivide it for eventual lot sale to potential owners, according to Sansom. “This community is being designed as a for-sale community,” he said.

This isn’t the first time DeNova officials have appeared before the Planning Commission to pitch the plan – and it may not be the last.

Planning Commission

The Sonoma Planning Commission meets at 6:30 on Thursday, Jan. 10, at the City Council Chambers, 117 First St. W.

As well as discussing Mockingbird Lane, several other small projects will be evaluated. Another DeNova project, a 30-unit apartment community at 655 W. Spain St. (Olivia Apartments) is listed as "withdrawn" but Trent Sanson of DeNova confirms that the project has already been approved by the Planning Commission and Design Review, with only building and grading permits to be issued.

The full agenda for the meeting is posted on the City of Sonoma website at this address.

DeNova was selected to purchase and develop the property following a reqest for proposal, or RFP, issued by the healthcare district in 2017. The firm has been working with the Planning Department to assess the need for environmental review since then.

Sanson said the plan has changed little from its initial presentation, but that was because DeNova had already worked with the city’s Project Advisory Committee and with residents at a neighborhood outreach meeting.

“The biggest thing the neighbors were concerned about was a community being too dense, so we did not pursue the maximum number of allowed units,” said Sanson. The 2.7 acre lot could have supported 22 residential units, according to Sonoma’s land use and zoning codes.

“All neighbors that attended our neighbored meeting understood the property would be developed for housing eventually, but they did not want to see it getting too dense,” said Sanson.

Added Sanons: “As is with anything in this world, it is impossible to always make everybody happy.”

On Dec. 13, the Planning Commission considered the Mockingbird Lane project’s parcel map for subdivision. Questions were raised about the project’s categorical exemption from the requirements of CEQA and whether the lot map complies with city site-coverage rules.

The Commission voted 6-1, with Commissioner James Cribb against, to continue the discussion to the Jan. 10 meeting. If the commission follows staff recommendation, the project may be approved at that time.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.

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