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Sebastappeal - Sarah Gurney - February 2017

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Sebastappeal - February 2017 - Sarah Gurney

by Sarah Glade Gurney

New Heights for Downtown

Downtown will grow up, that is, get taller. 

Sebastopol now allows 4-story buildings of up to 50 feet in height in the downtown area, by the City Council’s decision on January 17. Previously, buildings were limited to 3 stories and, curiously, only one such building was ever constructed: the remodeled office building at the corner of Petaluma Avenue and Burnett Street, a project designed by architect Patrick Slayter, now Vice Mayor. 

If there wasn’t a rush to build 3-story buildings before, will there be any interest in 4 stories in our future? Yes, because, with our renewed Urban Growth Boundary and current trends in the real estate market, up – not out – is the more available way to build. The taller the project, the more likely it will “pencil out.”  

There’s already one 4-story project in the pipeline: the hotel proposed on the former Diamond Lumberyard site across from The Plaza. “Hotel” is somewhat of a misnomer: in addition to a 66-room hotel, the several buildings will house a restaurant, retail spaces along Petaluma Avenue, a hostel, maker/art studios along Depot Street, outdoor sculpture, a public plaza with a fireplace, and rooftop viewing areas. 

There’s a second 4-story project under study. It’s called Pine Grove Square. Aided by consultants, a Council Sub-Committee is considering development possibilities for the municipal parking lot between S. Main and Petaluma Avenue, south of Burnett Street: perhaps retail, office, and commercial on the first floor, with housing, including affordable units, and public open space above. 

With the recent approval of the zoning text amendment requested by the hotel developer, the “Central Core” area, designated in the new General Plan’s Land Use Map, presents even more potential opportunity sites for 4 stories. The Central Core extends from the Methodist Church to the Post Office, between Pitt Avenue and High Street on the west to the westerly edge of The Barlow, including the entire south side of Sebastopol Avenue [approximately]. 

Imagine these properties infilling, or rather upfilling: the parking lots of Safeway and Rite Aid and behind the former Ford dealership; the Postal Annex; the underdeveloped area east of The Feed Store; side-by-side older homes near the library that, with age, could become tear-downs. 

Yes, we can grow up.

New Experiences for Downtown

The hotel complex will bring new vitality to downtown. Some people worry that our core business district will cater to wealthy tourists and exclude locals. Others report that their visiting friends and families look forward to the upgrade. Either way, the experiences will be livelier than what has been offered by the long-vacant lumberyard and the unfortunate, resulting disconnect between The Plaza and The Barlow. 

The hotel project has already brought one significant change. Our community survived a two-and-one-half-year-long application process without angry and divisive arguments and multiple lawsuits. That’s a big success, especially after the six years of wrenching conflict over the redevelopment of the Pellini property.

How was that success accomplished? It started with the community-visioning workshop and the marketing brochure for the lumberyard property. These Council-sponsored activities attracted a developer interested in collaborating with the community while the project took shape and in responding with changes in design and use during the approval process. 

In about three years, we’ll see how it affects our downtown.

New Store

It looks like the downsized CVS will open at its new location before the February Gazette hits the stands. No news available about the old location up north.

New Business

February Council agendas look as complex and lengthy as January’s. They include discussion of: The annexation of Tomodachi Park and Village Mobile Home Park; the location of commissioned public art; the development of ten small homes on the north side of Bodega Avenue near Pleasant Hill where the steep hillside creates a gap in the sidewalk; the Senior Center’s request for financial help; the analysis of the City’s unfunded liabilities; a proposal for housing and services for Sebastopol’s homeless. 

Go to ci.sebastopol.ca.us for up-to-date information. Come and participate in the discussion.