Editorial: Springs map raises eyebrows on Donald Street

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“It is not down in any map; true places never are.” – Herman Melville

As Christian Kallen reported earlier this week (“Donald Street Residents Cry Foul Over Inclusion in Springs Plan,” March 12) folks in the Donald Street neighborhood east of the Springs – they prefer “North Sonoma” – say they were surprised recently to find their neck of the woods is part of the Springs Specific Plan, a vision for the Highway 12 corridor north of town, hazily referred to as the Springs, to guide development and community character for the coming years.

It’s sort of a “general plan” for that economically burgeoning unincorporated community, spearheaded by 1st District Supervisor Susan Gorin and the county’s permit department, Permit Sonoma.

The Donald denizens apparently have been part of the still-formulating plan since its early stages in 2012; but they say they had no idea until recently, when….

The Donald folk point out that the majority of the neighborhood is several streets east of the Highway 12 corridor; they’ve simply never considered themselves a part of the Springs.

One look at the map of the area defined as the Springs in the plan and you can see where the Donald residents are coming from – it does appear to have been gerrymandered to grab the whole of Donald Street and various arteries stemming from it.

Other nearby residential streets – also east of the corridor, but closer to Highway 12 than Donald – are not included in the plan. In fact, if a Donald resident needed to travel to and from downtown Sonoma, they’d skip Highway 12 altogether and take Robinson Road and Verano Avenue. They could live an entirely non-corridor existence if they so truly desired.

So where did this map come from – and why was the Donald vein so deliberately included?

According to officials at Permit Sonoma, the map in the Springs Specific Plan is a development map created in 2012 by the Association of Bay Area Governments – the state’s regional agency that forecasts economic and population growth in the nine Bay Area counties. The area outlined on that map is referred to as a Rural Community Investment Area boundary – a bureaucratic-sounding title to be sure. But what it really defines are the areas where ABAG can help meet its economic and housing forecasts.

And it seems ABAG identified Donald Street as a key location to help meet its Sonoma County forecast for growth – which, one should add, is a necessary goal. Job growth and housing need will walk hand in hand with Sonoma County as it wends its way through the next several decades of expected population increase. Identifying development opportunities for jobs and housing is crucial.

But where does Donald fit in? Its surrounding blocks are purely residential – it’s not an area of shops, markets or offices like the economic epicenter a couple miles up the road at Boyes Hot Springs, from which “the Springs” derives its name. Why would the map make such a concerted effort to enfold Donald Street?

Some Donald residents suspect it might be a way of priming their neighborhood for re-zoning by the county, allowing for any undeveloped parcels to potentially host higher-density housing than is currently permitted. One such parcel is a vacant 2-acre lot between Donald and Verano, behind the Lighthouse Christian Church. It makes sense – former Springs plan manager Yolanda Solano even identified the parcel for its high-density housing potential at a meeting in August. But it’s still conjecture at this point.

What isn’t conjecture, however, is a summation of the Springs map in a county “Priority Development Area Investment and Growth Strategy” report from 2013, which found “the (Springs) area has infill potential for up to an additional approximately 250 units through the year 2040.”

One has the feeling Donald Street will find out how it fits into that potential long before then.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

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