After months of critical comments at town hall meetings and a protest against county plans to redevelop the Sonoma Development Center, the community of Glen Ellen has taken matters into their own hands.
At the Sept. 21 meeting of the North Sonoma Valley City Advisory Board, the Glen Ellen Historical Society presented a new plan for the property, which calls for significantly less housing and little state or county oversight. .
The plans were submitted Sept. 9 to the California Department of General Services, which oversees the historic Eldridge property, just hours before the department’s deadline for accepting proposals at the site.
Glen Ellen Historical Society representative Bean Anderson said Permit Sonoma ignored “key principles” highlighted at town hall meetings to create a rural scale of development, protect open spaces and ensure the local community guides future land use on the site.
“As you are well aware, the specific (county) plan proposed did not incorporate any of these communities, plans or principles, particularly with respect to scale,” Anderson said.
A New Plan for the ‘Next Hundred Years’
Anderson shared aspects of the Glen Ellen Historical Society’s proposal, titled “The ‘Next Hundred Years’ at SDC,” which aims to ensure local ownership and independent control of the land, in most cases, through the creation of a community trust.
“This proposal envisions the creation of the Sonoma Mountain Community Service District to manage land and development projects, and it also creates a community trust to develop responsible policies for the development and management of the site,” Anderson said.
The plan calls for 470 units, less than half the number proposed in the current specific plan, of which 60% would be designated affordable, or 282 in total. The new district would become a state agency that could access government funding, according to the plan. The board overseeing the trust would be made up of democratically elected residents of Glen Ellen and Sonoma Valley.
“It was clear to us that we could not trust Permit Sonoma to act on behalf of the people of Sonoma Valley,” Anderson said. “And with apologies to Blanche DuBois (an actress from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’), we couldn’t count on the kindness of the developers.”
With 10 days left before the proposal submission deadline, a small group of volunteers came together to create a plan to contrast Permit Sonoma’s existing proposal, Anderson said. The historical society‘s plan proposes that the state transfer ownership to the community trust to oversee and develop the land through private contractors, supplanting the state’s role in guiding redevelopment.
The state is looking to sell the property to a developer to build it, said Bradley Dunn, Permit Sonoma policy officer who oversees the SDC process. Dunn warned county critics that the state could revoke Sonoma County’s place in the planning process if a project’s financial feasibility was not met.
“If they propose a project to the state and the state selects them, they can do whatever they want within the limits of the specific plan,” Dunn said. “It assumes that we pass a specific plan in time and the state does not step in and preserve our local voice in the planning process.”
The historical society’s proposal stated that funding for the estimated $100 million redevelopment would be provided by “revenues and development value on the land, with no financial obligation to the constituents of the district.” The report notes that the community trust will likely contract projects with the same developers currently bidding on the property.
These contractors would build a proposed day care center to the south of the property, an agricultural incubator for young farmers, and a health clinic in the Nelson Building. In addition, plans foresee a micro-grid for solar energy and the rehabilitation of the emblematic building of the main administration with “second skin” technology.
The proposal claims that the Permit Sonoma redevelopment project will be more expensive at 1,000 units compared to the “village scale” development. While the historical society’s proposal does not identify an estimated total cost for the redevelopment, it says cost savings can be found through smaller-scale construction and technological innovation.
“If (Glen Ellen Historical Society) comes up with a financially viable option that the state selects and they can make it work, I’m going to tip my cap,” Dunn said.
The home stretch of the SDC
After the Sonoma Development Center closed to customers in 2018, the state commissioned Permit Sonoma to create a plan that takes into account the acute affordable housing crisis, protects open spaces and preserves buildings of historic significance. It was the first time a local agency had been allowed to take over state-owned land.
The project has exceeded the original 2-year deadline for the planning process, which was due to end at the end of 2021, largely due to complications resulting from the pandemic. Still, the county board of supervisors is set to identify a specific plan for state approval by the end of the year, according to project documents.
Permit Sonoma initially released three options for the site, including a historic preservation alternative with fewer housing units than the other designs. After public input, Permit Sonoma combined aspects of these plans, but fierce opposition to the number of housing units remained among some respondents.
In the three-design alternatives survey report reported by Permit Sonoma, older white respondents preferred the historic preservation alternative that had the fewest units while a “majority of younger respondents, regardless of their race” preferred the alternative with the greatest number of accommodations. units. Permit Sonoma’s current proposal is 1,000 units, which is at the lower end of the units of all alternative proposals, 25% of which would be affordable.
“These are (for) families who would have housing in Sonoma County, in the Sonoma Valley, that they could afford,” Dunn said.
On the other hand, the historical society says their proposal is the only way to secure public ownership of the SDC’s 945 acres in perpetuity, which would be “permanently lost if sold to a private developer.”
When a specific plan is finalized and approved by the Board of Supervisors, followed by state approval, developers will bid on a contract to develop the land based on the plan. Months away from the supervisors’ vote, the Glen Ellen community members’ proposal is a last-ditch effort to curtail development of a future SDC.
“The time to discuss the details will come after the district is in place,” the proposal reads. “So now it’s up to all of us to help make this happen.”