Spec homes in Fountaingrove burn area of Sonoma County hit the market

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Read more about the recovery from the October 2017 wildfires in the North Bay: nbbj.news/recovery


This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com, also part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.

A new four-bedroom house with picturesque views of Santa Rosa sits atop Fountaingrove on Rocky Knoll Way.

It will soon mark something of a milestone in Fountaingrove: the first house built and sold in the neighborhood on a burned lot purchased from a homeowner who pulled up stakes after the October 2017 wildfires, real estate agent Meaghan Creedon said.

A Feb. 10 open house drew 250 people, Creedon said. She counted about 100 at a subsequent event and expects the house to be off the market by the end of February.

While some attendees might only have been looking for inspiration to design their own homes, Creedon points to those high attendance figures as evidence that the Tubbs fire — which ripped over the hills from Calistoga and destroyed 1,586 Fountaingrove homes — has not scared away potential new residents.

“It is a phenomenon, is what I can say,” Creedon said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Creedon is working with Stone Point Construction, based near Sacramento, to list a house per month on 13 lots in burned areas. The speculative home construction operation could create up to 30 new Fountaingrove homes on burned lots bought from former residents and sold to new ones, she said.

This means keeping an eye out for flat lots with great views put on the market by former homeowners deciding to move on after the fires.

Stone Point likely won’t be the only “spec builder” in Santa Rosa working hard in Fountaingrove this year, as other developers have been buying up fire lots and readying developments of their own. Fountaingrove is home to the greatest number of burned lots listed so far, with 336 put up for sale by the end of 2018. More than half of the Fountaingrove fire lots put on the market have been sold, with 197 changing hands through December, according to the Compass real estate brokerage and the Terradatum real estate analytics group.

Stone Point was able to build quickly by housing between 15 and 20 workers at the Doubletree hotel in Rohnert Park, according to Creedon. That’s expensive, she said, but ensuring a dedicated local labor pool has allowed the company to build homes quickly. It took five months from laying the foundation to putting up the “for sale” sign outside the Rocky Knoll home, which is listed at about $1.8 million.

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12 homes rebuilt, more to come

As Stone Point and other developers begin building “spec houses,” other Fountaingrove homeowners are opting to rebuild homes lost in the hillside neighborhood.

Data provided by the city of Santa Rosa indicates that 12 homes have been built in Fountaingrove as of mid-February, with 331 more under construction and 319 other permit applications either granted or pending.

Gabe Osburn, Santa Rosa’s deputy director of development services, notes that construction in Fountaingrove has taken much longer than in other burned areas such as Coffey Park, where 146 homes already have been built and 672 are under construction. The extra time stems from Fountaingrove’s larger lots, steeper grades and more diverse floor plans, compared to the more homogeneous rebuilding projects in Coffey Park.

“You can imagine, if you’re designing a bigger home on a hillside, your construction takes longer,” Osburn said.

Read more about the recovery from the October 2017 wildfires in the North Bay: nbbj.news/recovery


This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com, also part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.

Recent storms spurred the city to bolster its inspections of construction sites to ensure that hillside stability and water quality are safeguarded, he said, adding that projects in Fountaingrove appear to have “held up pretty well with significant rain events.”

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Attention on contractors

A burgeoning concern among Fountaingrove block captains is whether contractors are being good neighbors, Osburn said. Concerns include contractors speeding through neighborhoods, storing material or equipment on sidewalks, and damaging roads with heavy machines. He notes that rebuilding an active neighborhood presents challenges that might not exist in normal subdivision projects, in which development moves in stages with construction zones remaining closed until the work is done.

Osburn said the city has had to follow up multiple times with some contractors regarding inappropriate behavior and has had to stop work on a few occasions, though no bans have been issued. He adds that residents can report incidents to the city and notes that Fountaingrove’s slopes can make it difficult for contractors to store supplies.

“Fountaingrove is challenged with the fact that topography sometimes does not allow the sites to be good staging areas, due to the hillside aspect,” he said.

As summer approaches, Fountaingrove’s slowly rebounding population can expect more construction noise earlier or later in the day. Osburn said the council is likely to soon consider a zoning amendment on noise that could expand when contractors can work in designated fire rebuild zones, balanced against neighbors’ desire for tranquility.

One big project remains in limbo: a proposed Residence Inn by Marriott in the Round Barn area that was rejected by the Santa Rosa Planning Commission in late November. The project went before the Santa Rosa City Council on appeal, but a vote was postponed after a public hearing. No date has been set for the council to decide the hotel’s fate, according to the city clerk’s office.

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Strength in numbers

A short drive from the Rocky Knoll house in the Altaire subdivision, 40 rebuilding homeowners banded together to create a buyer’s club and held an open house Feb. 23 to mark the success of their operation.

Altaire homeowner Philip De Carlo said the pact involved interviewing dozens of contractors, hiring a law firm and drafting a master agreement before negotiating with San Ramon-based Lafferty Construction on a roughly $35 million contract — featuring a base home price slightly above $200,000.

“It took an enormous degree of cooperation among the owners to make this work,” De Carlo said.

Many of the 40 homeowners opted for “bells and whistles” and design alterations that bumped up the final price, De Carlo said.

Banding together gives homeowners “real clout,” he adds, while providing guaranteed volume for the builders. De Carlo points to the model as one that could help fire survivors in Butte County, where the Camp fire destroyed thousands of homes, as well as other victims of future California natural disasters.

“I don’t see any reason for anybody to have to reinvent the wheel,” he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.

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