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25-year policy could alter affordability rules, reduce commercial land.

SANTA ROSA – Business and construction groups are concerned Santa Rosa is trying to accomplish too much in too little time with a proposed update to land-use policy for the next 25 years.

The city released a draft of the General Plan update at the end of 2008, with the focus on completing the Housing Element of the 368-page document by the state-mandated deadline of June 30.

To reach that goal, the planning staff intends to release a draft environmental-impact report on the plan in early March in time for the first public hearing, set for March 26 before the Planning Commission. Comments from that hearing would be addressed in recommendations to the City Council for a hearing on June 2.

Chris Lynch, executive vice president of the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, said that’s a relatively short time period from the first public hearing to a meet a state deadline for all cities to certify updates to their housing policy.

“The council will be faced with a take-it-all-or-nothing approach, and that concerns me,” he said.

The chamber has three problems with the plan. First, it says, it does not take into account the impact on housing and business in the current economic turmoil. Secondly, details in the plan need more than six months of review and, finally, public hearings on the draft will be held just three months before a key deadline for adoption.

Adoption of policy language from the plan also concerns other builder and business advocates.

One provision is for some central Santa Rosa land currently occupied by commercial operations to eventually have medium-density housing.

The city had planned eight public presentations of the draft plan in January and February, including seven to advisory boards. The next and last presentation will be before the city Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Board at 4 p.m. Feb. 19 at City Hall.

Lisa Kranz, who is overseeing the update for the city, said there will be time for concerns to be aired.

For instance, she said that when comments from the meetings get to the Planning Commission, that body can make changes to the draft before it gets to the City Council. The council in turn can delay adoption of the General Plan until questions are answered, she said.

As for the draft Housing Element itself, the Home Builders Association of Northern California and Santa Rosa-based nonprofit developer Burbank Housing object to a proposed change to the trigger for when a project would have to provide affordable housing on site or nearby. Projects larger than 15 acres currently have to provide affordable housing directly or through an in-lieu fee paid to the city Housing Authority. That agency pools fee money plus grants and other sources to fund affordable housing projects.

Incorporating language from the city’s Downtown Station Area Plan, the proposed Housing Element calls for up to 40 percent of the housing units of a project to be affordable. A Housing Allocation Plan based on the element is set for adoption in 2010.

“Resources from in-lieu fees can be combined with low-income tax credits and station housing funds to support building of units with rents and are significantly below market,” said Burbank Housing President John Lowry.

On-site affordable housing built by the market-rate developer or in partnership with a nonprofit builder or through donation of land to a developer is what is needed to combat overconcentration and segregation of lower-income families in outlying neighborhoods, revitalize the downtown area and fight greenhouse-gas emissions, according to David Graybill, a lawyer working with the Sonoma County Housing Advocacy Group.

“The city needs to put its foot down and say you have got to do it,” he said.

Homebuilding consultant Charlie Carson acknowledged the potential for concentrated affordable housing, but requiring on-site development will lead to fewer affordable units being built.

“Nonprofit developers say that if a project has a small number of affordable units you run into problems with economies of scale in building and managing small numbers of units per project,” he said.

To view the draft General Plan, visit ci.santa-rosa.ca.us/departments/cityadmin/adv_planning_policy/.