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SB35 could advance stalled Sebastopol affordable housing

By Nashelly Chavez, The Press Democrat, April 13, 2022

“A plan to build [an] 84 unit [100 percent] affordable housing project, with 48 [units] reserved for agricultural workers and their families, [has been resubmitted in Sebastopol. The city] now has 90 days from April 4 to approve or reject the request.

“Since late 2019, the proposed [Woodmark Apartments, being developed by The Pacific Companies, a group that specializes in multifamily dwellings,] has faced opposition from area residents. And in January 2021, the project was delayed after the city decided the developer’s application needed to be changed.

“The project also has been stalled for more than a year as Sebastopol consulted with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria about the preservation of possible cultural artifacts that might be found on the site. That process wrapped up on March 30 and the application for the Woodmark Apartments under SB 35 was filed five days later.

“[Woodmark is] the first time a developer has attempted to build affordable housing in Sebastopol using SB 35, said Kari Svanstrom, AICP, Sebastopol’s planning director. [As Sebastopol] has not met its [state-] required housing [targets, it] falls under the auspices of this law: of the 17 low-income housing units Sebastopol is required to build by early 2023, only 12 have been permitted.

“Nearly 300 Sebastopol residents signed a petition opposing the development, submitted to the city in March 2021. [Their concerns include the potential for] emergency evacuations out of the town [that] might be complicated by the addition of more people [on] one-lane Bodega Avenue, a major artery.

“Zeke Guzman, president of the scholarship and cultural nonprofit Latinos Unidos del Condado de Sonoma,] said a Design Review Board member worried that multiple people might try to cram into a one-bedroom unit. Guzman said he believes the person made that statement because half of the project’s units would be set aside for local farmworkers, who are predominately Latino.

“The one-, two- and three-bedroom units of the Woodmark project would be priced for families with incomes ranging between 30 and 60 percent of Sonoma County’s Area Median Income [$103,300 annually for a family of four], said Pacific Companies development partner Lauren Alexander. 

“Svanstrom, Sebastopol’s planning director, said her department will decide if the project wins approval using the criteria set out by SB 35.

“[Woodmark’s] Alexander said she believes the city ‘will have a hard time’ finding a reason to reject the development under the requirements laid out by SB 35.”

Read the full article here (8 min). 

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