A signature corner approaching the Sonoma Plaza from the south, at Broadway and MacArthur, may soon see the construction of a multiuse development with 33 housing units and a 3,500-square-foot retail space.

The Gateway Project was granted a use permit by the Sonoma Planning Commission on May 10. The approval also included finding for a “negative mitigated declaration,” meaning a full Environmental Impact Report will not be needed.

The project proposal from Barry McComic’s Vesta Pacific Development initially came before the Planning Commission on March 29, but a late note from architect Victor Conforti pointed out that one of the proposed townhouse units was located in a 100-year flood plain for nearby Nathanson Creek. McComic withdrew the application at that time, after receiving some input from the commission on that and other design elements.

This time, though it was hardly smooth sailing, the staff’s recommendation for approval of the use permit was ultimately accepted by a 5-2 vote, with Commissioner James Bohar and Chair Robert Felder voting nay.

Following that first meeting, the Vesta Pacific team went back to work to revise their proposal, and came before the commission with one that met their suggestions and acquired Planning Director David Goodison’s support as well. Those criteria, Goodison said, reflected input on several previous projects proposed for the location as well – projects which could not achieve Planning Commission approval.

An emphasis on residential use, pedestrian elements and connections, a 30-foot height limit with taller buildings in the interior of the project’s 1.86-acre lot, and screening the parking area were all accomplished, as was a greater focus on smaller unit sizes and a diversity of unit types.

“Even with respect to the proposal made by this applicant, it’s gone through a significant evolution, and it’s been improved in a variety of aspects by the commission review process,” said Goodison at the meeting. “There’s certainly been no rubber-stamping of this project, it’s been revised and improved in a number of ways.”

The new plan reduces the overall housing units from 35 to 33, and includes eight affordable units, one more than required by the city’s Development Code. The three largest units are 1,934-square-foot, four-bedroom units with attached two-car garage. The smallest are eight 486-square-foot one-bedroom, one-bath units to be constructed above the retail structure at the southwest corner of the intersection, the most visible corner.

The retail space has also been reduced in size, down 600 square feet to 3,500.

“All of this chain of hearings has been beneficial – the project tonight I think shows that,” said Scot Hunter, representing the project. “All the way through, our attitude has been to respond to criticism and suggestions, and so on. I think that’s why the plan looks as good as it does now.”

While acknowledging the project has improved, Conforti said it still has a long way to go. He was troubled the larger townhouse and separate homes as incompatible with a “mixed use” definition, saying smaller units would reduce issues over massing and site coverage. “When you drive in there, you’re going to be shocked, and I don’t think you’ll be proud of this.”

Parking also came under some public scrutiny, and both Felder and Bohar cited parking among their reasons for disapproval. The plan calls for 82 parking spaces, 74 onsite and eight offsite, but much of the opposition centered around the passage of the driveway into the site interior through what was called “a canyon” of garages.

Former Planning Commissioner Bill Willers was scathing in his criticism of the proposal as submitted, questioning the renderings and elevations as inadequate. He disparaged the project as incompatible with Sonoma: “It’s compatible with Southern California... It’s been dressed up to look like a Craftsman building … the clothes that this project wears doesn’t make this project compatible.”

Hunter disagreed, pointing out that the complete packet included floor plans, elevations and renderings of all buildings.

Ultimately, the final vote was to approve the project, and barring the submission of an appeal – due 15 days after the vote, or May 25 – the next step is design review.

Contact Christian at christian.kallen@sonomanews.com.