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Wildfires add to Sonoma, Napa, North Bay homebuilding opportunities in coming years

North Coast wildfires in the past five years have created a lot of work for construction companies, particularly builders of custom homes, according to Keith Woods, president of 1,000-member North Coast Builders Exchange.

From the 2017 wildfires that destroyed nearly 6,000 homes in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties, a significant proportion of the homes have been rebuilt, namely in the Coffey Park community of northwest Santa Rosa, he noted. But there still hundreds of lots in the Fountaingrove area of northeast Santa Rosa, Sonoma Valley and Napa County that still haven’t been undertaken.

And then came the 2020 wildfires, which destroyed hundreds of residential and commercial structures in Sonoma and Napa counties, including over a dozen wineries in Napa Valley, neighborhoods around Lake Berryessa and homes in east Santa Rosa and northwest of Healdsburg.

“While they may not all get underway in 2021, over the next few years the fire rebuild will still generate a lot of work,” Woods said.

Two major projects are looking to bring back 750 homes to the Fountaingrove burn area, but these are slated to be multifamily homes. The Ferro family that owns the site where Fountaingrove Inn operated for decades, also including a historic round barn, submitted plans in June for a 224-unit project currently called Fountaingrove Inn Apartments.

And diagonally across the intersection of Mendocino Avenue and Fountaingrove Parkway is the former Journey’s End mobile home park, where two residents were killed when the 2017 Tubbs Fire roared through, destroying all but 44 of the 162 homes and leaving the rest uninhabitable in the 13.5-acre park at 3575 Mendocino.

Late last year, the city approved a 532-unit project with 162 affordable senior units on 2.5 acres and 370 market-rate units on 9.25 acres. Santa Rosa-based nonprofit Burbank Housing and Los Angeles-based for-profit developer Related California are working on the affordable piece. They secured tax credits earlier this month that would equate to $40 million of the $56 million estimated cost for the first phase of 94 units. The goal is to start construction on that this fall, according to Larry Florin, CEO of Burbank.

Meanwhile, Burbank has 110 homes and rentals under construction in three Santa Rosa, Napa and Rohnert Park projects, and doing renovation work for transitional housing in Petaluma and Santa Rosa. Burbank plans to start work on 342 other units this year in Santa Rosa, Napa, Healdsburg and Windsor.

“We’re seeing more activity than in other years,” Florin said. “This is due in large part to the availability of one-time funds related to disaster relief.”

While not a wildfire rebuild, the first of 237 planned all-electric luxury townhomes are being framed on 20 acres of former Medtronic land in Fountaingrove, with 30 other acres conserved for walking trails and open space. Based in San Francisco and Irvine, City Ventures late last year started framing 16 of the 80 homes planned in the first phase of its project at 3500 Round Barn Blvd.

Building 15 to 20 homes at a time, the goal is to complete the first phase this year and the whole project in two years, according to President Phil Kerr. The first homes in the Round Barn project are priced at $590,000–$755,000 for three- and four-bedroom floorplans with 1,725–1,945 square feet and two-car garages. Seven are set to be sold so far, and one more is reserved, beyond the three that are model homes and one for a sales office.

“We’re seeing a lot of demand in Santa Rosa right now on all of our projects,” he said. “It’s really being fueled by the pandemic and the price points (of the homes). A lot of the buyers are from San Francisco, Marin and the core Bay Area, but there are a lot of local buyers as well.”

City Ventures is completing the last phases of its Fox Hollow and The Reserve single-family homes in northwest Santa Rosa and just started construction on 40 homes on Stony Point Road in the city.

“If you could have been a developer on the Peninsula 20-30 years ago, you would have been wise, Kerr said. “The North Bay has character and charm with the outdoors and a lifestyle that is very appealing. We’ve seen increased connectivity to the core Bay Area and increased flexibility with a workforce that has increasing interest in the North Bay.”

Jeff Quackenbush covers wine, construction and real estate. Before the Business Journal, he wrote for Bay City News Service in San Francisco. He has a degree from Walla Walla University. Reach him at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.

Correction, Jan. 27, 2020: Phil Kerr’s name was misspelled.

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