Any reasonable person willing to take the time to read the four-year-plus saga of the Elnoka residential development near Oakmont last week could only conclude that it is a tragic but telling case of, at best, questionable planning procedures.
"Unfortunately, the process has turned into a long, bitter and costly nightmare," said Elnoka developer William Gallaher, whose Santa Rosa-based Oakmont Senior Living has developed award-winning senior and other residential communities in Sonoma County and around California and the West.
Imagine, for instance, being told a major portion of the project property was actually zoned low-density residential, not medium, "greatly reducing the property value," according to Oakmont Senior Living, "and negating the many hours spent developing plans and losing previously paid application fees." This occurred nearly two years into the process with the city telling Oakmont Senior Living the change would require "a completely new application, new fees paid, and timing would start from zero." The change resulted in the project being reduced by a third from about 300 units to just over 200.
In addition, no fewer than four different planners were assigned to oversee the project at various times. Oakmont Senior Living said it was assured at one point that a straight-forward Planning Commission approval was all that was needed. That assurance was reversed, and then reversed again.
Meanwhile, an expensive Environmental Impact Report was said to be unnecessary since the project was consistent with the city's own General Plan. Ultimately, four years into the process the city demanded a $218,000 EIR.
Our question is, why does the city even have a General Plan if it does not intend to follow it? The General Plan exists to let the entire community - public officials, residents and developers - have a say in and know what can or can't be