Donald Street residents cry foul over Springs plan
Residents of a street just north of the Sonoma city limits are challenging their street’s inclusion in the Springs Specific Plan, a Sonoma County project to guide development along the Highway 12 corridor, an area unofficially dubbed the Springs.
The county’s Springs Specific Plan has been in the works since 2012 and is intended to map out the future of the area along Highway 12, from Verano Avenue to Agua Caliente Road, toward a “more vibrant and pedestrian oriented community,” according to the plan’s overview.
But the residents of Donald and adjoining streets say the neighborhood has never been considered part of the Springs, a group of loosely-defined communities in the unincorporated Sonoma Valley, usually thought to include El Verano, Boyes Hot Springs, Fetters and Agua Caliente.
“Our shock and dismay is that our area was included as part of the Springs,” said Gary DeSmet, a long-time middle school teacher in Sonoma and resident of the area. “This matters, we feel, because this reality kept us from following the Springs Specific Plan.”
The neighborhood in question is in non-incorporated northwest Sonoma, to the east of what is commonly thought of as the Springs corridor. The corridor generally runs along Donald Street parallel to Verano between the Sonoma Highway and 5th Street East, and includes parts of Robinson Road, Harley Street, a block of Lomita Avenue and the north side of Verano with approximately 100 homes.
But it’s not the lines on the map that matter, and not even the identification with the Springs, says DeSmet. Instead, he and his neighbors are concerned about the possibility that 2 acres of undeveloped land behind the Iglesia Cristiana Lighthouse, at 700 Verano Ave., are targeted for development into high-density affordable housing.
“I wasn’t naïve to think there would never be buildings on that land,” said Ricci Wheatley, who lives on Robinson Street near the empty lots. In January, Wheatley says she learned of pending zoning changes not only on the empty lots, but on most properties in the area, including her own. She began asking neighbors if they knew anything about these changes, and found that almost no one did.
That was worrisome enough for about 100 people to show up at a recent community meeting for the Springs Specific Plan, held March 6 at the Sonoma Regional Library, armed with a slate of questions for 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin, who’s been involved in the plan since its inception, and Kyle Rabellino of Permit Sonoma, the new project manager for the Springs Specific Plan.
Rabellino has replaced Yolanda Solano in the management role, after Solano shepherded the plan through the last four years of community meetings, hearings and other opportunity for public input, including a presentation to the Sonoma Valley Citizens Advisory Commission in August.
At the August meeting of the Advisory Commission, Solano said that the 2-acre open area could be rezoned to accommodate high-density residential development.
The county has made it a priority to add 30,000 additional housing units in the next five years, with an emphasis on affordable housing.
In the meantime, Gary and Vicki DeSmet contacted Gorin’s office in January asking for a meeting to talk about their concerns, and Gorin suggested turning it into a community meeting – and the March 6 meeting at the library was scheduled.