What’s going on with Woodmark Apartments?

By Zoë Strickland, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, March 22, 2021

The developer is looking into a different, streamlined application process.

At the Sebastopol City Council meeting on March 16, public commenters came out to discuss their opposition to the Woodmark Apartments planned for Bodega Avenue. The discussion was short, since the council can’t discuss non-agendized items. However, it was revealed that the project’s developers have started to pursue a different method submitting their application — a planning and zoning law that fast-tracks affordable housing developments that meet certain standards and requires cities to let them bypass some parts of the development approval process.

Two council members, Neysa Hinton and and Patrick Slayter, had to step out for the discussion since they live nearby the development.

Woodmark Apartments is proposed as an 84-unit apartment, 100% affordable housing development complex at 7716 and 7760 Bodega Avenue.

According to the developer, it will target families, seniors and individuals with incomes ranging between 30% and 60% of the area’s median income and will consist of 48 units that are reserved for employees or retirees of the agricultural sector.

The project’s developer, The Pacific Companies, submitted its design review application for the project on Dec. 14 but withdrew the application in early February, according to the city’s planning director, Kari Svanstrom.

Instead, they have submitted the pre-application and their intent to submit an application through the SB35 process, which Svanstrom described as “streamlined” and “ministerial.”

According to SB35, review of the project has to follow a ministerial process that is “strictly focused on assessing compliance with criteria required for streamlined projects, as well as any reasonable objective design standards published and adopted by ordinance or resolution by a local jurisdiction before submission of a development application, and shall be broadly applicable to development within the jurisdiction. That design review or public oversight shall be completed as follows and shall not in any way inhibit, chill, or preclude the ministerial approval.”

Svanstrom said the bill does allow the city to look at zoning standards and things similar to that for compliance.

“We have 60 days to do our review to see if they are indeed eligible to go through that process or not and we’re taking our time to do our due-diligence and research that application,” Svanstrom said. “We’re about a month into that and we’ve been … working closely with our outside legal counsel to review.”

Svanstrom said that the city hasn’t determined yet if the developer is able to go through SB35 for its application.

Members of the public urged the council to consider the impact of the development on neighboring seniors, as well as the toll that increased traffic and on-street parking may have on the area.

“Here at Burbank, we are all in favor of affordable housing. However, more than 100 of us signed a petition against Woodmark because it’s just too big for our neighborhood. Here at Burbank we have one exit and entrance and even now it’s really hard to get out of here on some days,” said Patty Hiller, a resident of Burbank Heights & Orchards. “During the evacuation, it was really scary and most of us cannot imagine what an extra couple hundred cars would do to our ability to get out of this place.”

Hiller said that, to be able to afford the housing, people may have more adults living in one unit than anticipated, therefore leading to a shortage of parking spaces, encouraging people to park on nearby streets.

“I would be shocked if there was a single person in attendance at this meeting today who thinks that the Woodmark Apartments, as it is planned now, is a good thing for this community. I would be shocked if there are many people in this town who think that this is in the best interest of this community,” said Catherine Murray, urging the council to address the projects “before it’s too late.”

“We’re making every effort to hear the public about their concerns about this project, but we are also being very mindful of complying with all of the legal requirements that, as a city, we must comply with,” said Mayor Una Glass. “Particularly because this is an affordable housing project, there are a lot of laws about our local jurisdiction and our ability to make rulings on this, so we are being extremely mindful of how we conduct ourselves as this process goes forward.”

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com