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Community members give their input on the 2007 Downtown Station Area Specific Plan. Source: Municipal Transportation Commission

Santa Rosa City Council to Consider Downtown Height Incentive Plan

Sep 10, 2018
by Will Carruthers


This weekend, Santa Rosa celebrated its 150th birthday. But, despite its age, Sonoma County’s largest city has never really grown up.

At a September 10 meeting of the City Council’s Economic Development Subcommittee, city staff presented the conclusions of a forthcoming report on why the city lacks tall residential buildings downtown and unveiled a plan to encourage developers to build them.

The report, based on suggestions from the Council of Infill Developers, will suggest legislative tactics to encourage developers to build market rate and affordable housing projects on vacant and underutilized land within the city, a process known as infill development.

According to the report, the reasons for developers’ reluctance include:

  • Market demand for tall buildings with less parking remains “unproven,” making developers wary of investing in Santa Rosa.
  • A perception from developers that the city's staff and politicians lack enthusiasm for taller buildings.
  • Prohibitively high permitting fees discourage developers from building higher.

Proposed solutions include:

  • Streamlining state environmental protections and lowering the cost of permits on taller residential buildings.
  • Completing a public-private project as a proof of concept.

Staff also unveiled the Downtown High-Density Residential Incentive Program, a proposed system of incentives intended to encourage taller housing developments in the city center.

Under the plan, developers would pay less on building permits per unit for each additional floor of the building. Additional incentives would be offered for affordable housing units.

Downtown Station Area Map

Coming Together

Walter Kieser, a consultant who worked on the rollout of the city’s Housing Action Plan, said he was encouraged by the staff’s report that the city is finally taking the challenge seriously.

A few years ago, Kieser sensed an “unwillingness to take action” to incentivize taller buildings.

This time around, there seems to be more widespread political support for building taller residential buildings downtown.

“We’re encouraging density, height, mix of affordability, in-sites, close to transit, the kind of development, for the most part, our community supports. We’ve had support on this, not just from the business and development communities, but from some of the environmental community, from the labor folks. Many of the factions agree we need more residential development downtown,” Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey told the North Bay Business Journal in May.

Santa Rosa staff will present the permit incentive plan at the City Council’s September 25 meeting.

The report is the latest effort this year to study and promote more density downtown.

In May, Santa Rosa received an $800,000 grant from the Municipal Transportation Commission to update the 2007 Downtown Station Area Specific Plan.

On August 30, Assemblymember Jim Wood dropped legislation to speed development by relaxing environmental rules for downtown developments after the State Senate Appropriations Committee suggested major changes.




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