Santa Rosa weighs plans for downtown development through 2040

July 16, 2019 in News by RBN

The three proposed plan alternatives — dubbed “Vibrant Core,” “Village Centers” and “Transit Forward” — all would continue a current plan to eventually connect Fourth Street, which is divided by the downtown mall. The plans will go before the City Council and the Planning Commission at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Santa Rosa City Hall.

Santa Rosa’s current plan, adopted in 2007, envisions about 3,400 new homes downtown to be built over 20 years. Only 375 units have been built or approved, according to city data. Over the past few years, spurred by the October 2017 fires, Santa Rosa has ramped up efforts to entice new housing development, particularly near its two Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit stations.

All three new plan options are estimated to result in 7,000 new homes in the downtown area and between 2,000 and 4,000 new jobs, though the precise location of the new housing varies. Each would include some sort of connection through the mall property, though they differ on whether this proposed passage would be a full street or a route just for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The eventual downtown plan will likely combine elements of all three plans based on feedback from city officials, residents and others with interest in Santa Rosa’s future downtown, said Andrew Hill, a principal with Dyett & Bhatia, an Oakland-based consulting firm helping Santa Rosa cobble together a single vision by the end of the year.

“We’ll be letting people kick the tires on those various different alternatives to understand the pros and cons,” he said, noting that the idea of a connected Fourth Street through the mall property has been “resoundingly supported” by members of the public.

The “Vibrant Core” option would see new housing mostly concentrated around Old Courthouse Square. New housing on Third Street between Morgan and E streets could be required to be at least six stories with no height limits.

The “Village Centers” alternative would create and connect newly dense neighborhoods of hundreds of homes near the square; along Santa Rosa Avenue; west of the Railroad Square SMART station; in the Maxwell Court area; along the eastern reaches of Sebastopol Road between downtown and Roseland; and on West Third Street.

New transportation work would improve pathways between these areas, which would revolve around public parks or plazas, to create a downtown with housing diffused across these different “villages,” Hill said.

“Each would have its own unique character,” he said.

The third option, dubbed “Transit Forward,” would call for new housing to spring up along stretches of Mendocino and Santa Rosa avenues, Third Street, and Sebastopol Road alongside improved transit service stemming from an expanded city transit mall on Second Street.

These roads could be remade to prioritize bus routes while ensuring lanes for bicyclists and creating wide sidewalks for pedestrians. The Fourth Street connector through the Santa Rosa Plaza mall is an element of downtown that exists in the city’s current area plan.

Simon Property Group, which owns the mall and could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon, has been involved with the ongoing planning discussions as well as other downtown business and development interests.

The inclusion of the connector “doesn’t necessarily mean that we are looking to have the mall demolished and re-done as something else,” said Jessica Jones, a supervising planner with the city. A free shuttle like the short-lived service the city operated downtown until March, a major redevelopment project on the current site of City Hall and improvements to downtown highway underpasses also are potential elements of the new downtown plan. The planning efforts haven’t gotten to the level of specific changes to city ordinances or zoning.

“We’re still looking at a very conceptual level,” Hill said.