Coffey Park — one of the most publicized communities that suffered major losses in the recent wildfires — is moving closer toward a viable plan to rebuild.
Though there may be confusion among residents who lost homes during the recent fires about how to rebuild, architects and builders are confident that Coffey Park can be rebuilt in record time, provided residents take an active part in the process.
“We are determined to get it done fast and cost effectively, despite logistical challenges, and building during the winter months,” said John Allen, project manager at APM Homes in Santa Rosa.
The biggest challenge is getting input from all the residents of the area and actively engaging them.
“Through a consensus, it (what to build) has to come from the people,” Allen said.
Several meetings have been held, and at the latest block captains were elected.
“There’s been a lot of positive feedback from community leaders and residents,” Allen said.
Residents are already being directed to Draftech Blueprinting in Santa Rosa, a copy center for architects, to view floor plans.
The key is to rebuild quickly, said Julia Donoho, an architect and attorney and the chair of the American Institute of Architect’s Redwood Empire’s Firestorm Recovery Committee, which was first formed in response to the 2015 Valley fire in nearby Lake County.
“We’re in a race to keep people from a breaking point and leaving,” she said.
During the recent wildfires, Sonoma County lost about 5,000 homes, and Santa Rosa — the largest city in the county — had 3,000 homes destroyed and entire neighborhoods wiped out. The homes lost in Santa Rosa represent roughly 5 percent of its housing stock.
About 1,300 homes were lost in Coffey Park, a middle-class neighborhood.
Donoho, a resident of Windsor, is volunteering her efforts on project Coffey Park Rebuild Together (CPR-T), to rebuild all of Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood and talking to builders, bankers, and homeowners, pushing for a speedy recovery that she believes will exceed every recovery effort on record.
It’s necessary, she said, having learned from the Valley Fire why people give up.
“It becomes an onerous process,” she said. “People don’t understand the process, feel alone, the insurance money isn’t enough, and they just don’t have the stamina. Understanding why people leave, how to give them hope is the key.”
To that end, Donoho has been speaking with displaced residents, large scale builders, and bankers.
She wants to give residents as many options as possible for rebuilding, whether in small or large groups, or individually.
APM Homes is one of about a dozen large and small builders in the area working with Donoho to figure out how they can best work together to rebuild the area. The quickest and most cost effective way would be a group build.
“It obviously makes sense to build en mass,” Allen said.
He believes that the first homes could be completed by as early as summer 2018.
“We have reached out to our local subcontractors as well as subcontractors from out of town and we believe that we can rally the manpower to do so,” he said.
A group build, whether with 10, 50, or 100, takes organization, to help people work with the insurance, architect, and city permits with efficiency but the process is fairly simple, according to Jeff Pack, an executive with Stonefield Companies, one of the handful of builders responsible for rebuilding hundreds of the homes lost in Scripps Ranch, in San Diego, after the 2003 Cedar fire. That deadly blaze that destroyed a total of more than 2,300 residential properties in the region, and the rebuilding effort took several years.
“Our blueprint down there allowed the homeowners to team up together and that allowed the cost spreading to occur from architectural plans to contractor superintendent onsite to site supplies to different tractors that the subcontractors needed to use,” Pack said.
Allen said builders and residents don’t want to see an outsider “Come in and swoop up lots. That would change the face of the community,” he said.
Donoho said it’s likely Coffey Park will be rebuilt by local companies, but is speaking with Pack, “To understand the process they went through to rebuild 200 homes. Our challenge is much larger, so we need to use and apply every means possible that can achieve the objectives. They may have some innovative ideas,” she said.
For a group rebuild, here, Pack said, builders would work with an architect to develop plans that fit on the majority of lots, and conduct meetings with the community to discuss design and floor plans, so that everyone has input and comes to an agreement on what their neighborhood will look like.
When homeowners get reimbursed by their insurance companies, and decide to build a larger or smaller home, they would have seven–10 options to choose from.
When a plan is met with public approval, the cost is spread over all the homes, versus building each custom home.
The builder then works with the city on permitting.
Donoho and Allen both emphasized the process depends on Coffey residents coming to an agreement on what their community will look like.
“All options need to be on the table to maximize our number of homes and to build efficiently. The Owners need to be able to have options and be able to make their choice of solutions, and we need to make it easy for them to achieve their objectives,” Donoho said.
Questions have been raised about the normally drawn out permitting process, but city officials have put an urgency policy in place to expedite the process, Allen said.
“I don’t foresee permitting as an issue,” Donoho said.
The real issue will be money, she said, and Donoho has created a plan and been talking with banks about creating a consortium.
“The idea is to make financing construction of multiple dwellings flow smoothly so that contractors keep their overhead down, keep their material suppliers, and labor force happy, and deliver homes cost effectively by utilizing subdivision financing,” she said.
That includes reducing financial obstacles that stall the typical post-disaster insurance/banking/gap financing according to a CPR-T report Donoho created.
It works similarly to Stonefield’s plan.
The homeowner signs a contract with the builder for the new home and the banker holds that as collateral. The builder gets a subdivision development loan, and when the home is completed the homeowner pays for their home with insurance proceeds, conventional loans (existing or new), and gap financing.
Donoho said she brings her professional commitment and project management abilities to the table with the objective of rebuilding the maximum number of houses in the shortest time, most efficiently, meeting green and energy codes, with the best quality of construction and the least logistical issues.
“In prior disasters in other locations, many people were daunted by the task of rebuilding or could not maximize their insurance, resulting in splotchy results for the community. To exceed expectations we need to build a higher percentage of homes than could be expected in a business as usual model,” Donoho said. “That means we need to wrap services around the owners to help them get back in a house, and we need to make it easy for the builders to rein an efficient construction process. The alternative, for me, is to discord, lack of success, and unhappy people.”
Cynthia Sweeney covers health care, hospitality, residential real estate, education, employment and business insurance. Reach her at Cynthia.Sweeney@busjrnl.com