Sonoma County has approved a deal to sell an 82-acre former county hospital site where a developer plans to build 800 rental units, housing for veterans, a grocery store, an amphitheater and other amenities.
County leaders have touted the sale to Bill Gallaher, a politically connected Santa Rosa developer, as a clear-sighted move to meet an urgent regional need — expanding the housing supply, especially for renters, who’ve seen rates skyrocket in recent years.
The deal was approved 5-0 by Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday.
The health care complex is centered around the former Community Hospital, built in 1936 and vacated in 2014 after Sutter Health moved into its new hospital off Mark West Road. The aging building did not meet current seismic building standards and racked up costly maintenance bills, according to the county. Much of it is slated for demolition under Gallaher’s proposal.
Though a sale of the property was first raised as a possibility more than a decade ago, the deal approved Tuesday has faced strong criticism from neighbors, health care advocates and others since it was first unveiled as a proposal in February. Opponents raised concerns about the loss of health care services on the site and the future of open lands on the property.
But proponents, including Gallaher’s representative, have emphasized all along that the details of the project will ultimately be Santa Rosa's permit and planning process is complete, and officials expect that period to last about 18 months.
After Tuesday’s vote, Komron Shahhosseini, Gallaher’s project manager, expressed relief that the deal had passed a major milestone and could proceed toward adding hundreds of new housing units.
“We’re very happy, thankful for the board and that they had the vision to understand that this is something that is very, very needed — desperately needed, as I think everybody knows,” Shahhosseini said in an interview. “We’re looking forward to getting on to the city process, where so many of the issues that have been brought up by neighbors will be addressed.”
The project survived one challenge after neighbors campaigned against the inclusion in the sale of a roughly 10-acre parcel long considered part of an official open space preserve. After the county conceded, the revised real estate deal now requires Gallaher’s team to secure a conservation easement that will permanently protect the parcel, which includes a beloved open meadow.
But other concerns remain. Dr. Panna Lossy, a leader of a group of medical professionals concerned about the loss of health care services on the site, reiterated some of those objections Tuesday, even as she voiced support for at least some of what the county is trying to accomplish.
“We definitely support the affordable housing component of this deal,” Lossy said. “We wish there were more affordable housing coming with this. We also feel that the terms of the sale are not in the best public interest.”
Lossy said the sale betrayed the site’s longstanding “history of caring for vulnerable populations.” She asked supervisors to consider whether their position was influenced by political donations made by Gallaher and people with ties to him.
“I would urge all of us to be careful in questioning our own unintentional bias when we are accepting gifts from industry representatives,” Lossy said.
Supervisor James Gore rejected assertions that the sale was influenced by political spending.
This story originally appeared at www.PressDemocrat.com at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/7185164-181/sonoma-county-approves-sale-of?artslide=0