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


This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com.

The rebuilding of Fountaingrove has continued at a slow but stable pace over the past month, with five homes finished and 222 under construction as of mid-November, according to Santa Rosa figures.

The number of new projects begun in that period added up to perhaps the most encouraging sign: It equated to more than one home per day (42 overall), with an additional 435 applications for permits submitted to the city for rebuilds in Fountaingrove, where nearly 1,600 homes were lost to the Tubbs fire.

“It is taking a little bit longer” than other areas of the city, said David Guhin, director of Santa Rosa’s Planning & Economic Development Department. “But there is definitely some movement.”

In Coffey Park, for comparison, 48 homes have been finished and 550 were under construction by Nov. 14.

A greater share of those homes were following pre-approved designs put forward by large developers, Guhin said.

In Fountaingrove, more proposals are for custom-built homes, which take longer and require extra attention from city planners.

Bruce McConnell, vice president of the Fountaingrove II Open Space Maintenance Association, which is overseeing cleanup efforts in parts of the neighborhood, said progress over the past month made him optimistic about the region’s future.

Pressure on the construction industry, including an ongoing shortage of skilled labor, was cause for worry, he said.

But “it’s starting to look encouraging right now,” he said.

Condo project one step closer

A 237-unit Fountaingrove townhouse project working its way through Santa Rosa’s planning process would be the largest single development envisioned for any of the county’s burn zones.

The Round Barn Village project would occupy 40 vacant acres within the loop formed by Round Barn Boulevard and Fountaingrove Parkway.

City Ventures, a San Francisco-based developer, plans to build all-electric townhouses with rooftop solar panels in a “progressive farmhouse style,” according to plans filed with the city.

The city’s Design Review Board withheld final approval of the project in mid-November and ordered developers to address some aesthetic concerns with the planned townhouses.

The step came nearly four years after City Ventures began talks with the city about the project. Given a go-ahead, developers have estimated construction would take two years to complete.

New fire station still needs work

Work on a temporary fire station to replace Station 5, the new $4 million facility destroyed in the Tubbs fire, is nearing completion on Parker Hill Road. The site held the neighborhood’s old, vacant fire station, which also was claimed in the blaze.

The $1 million temporary facility likely won’t be completed until December, according to Adriane Mertens, a city spokeswoman. An opening date has not been set.

After the building work is done, the city will still have to do its part to transform the structure into a fire headquarters, said Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal. That means bringing in computers and office equipment, and beds for the three firefighters stationed there to serve Fountaingrove and Hidden Valley.

Surrounding stations currently cover the area, with longer response times to reach calls, Lowenthal said. When engines get pulled away from their home stations to respond to calls, the absence of a functioning Fountaingrove station affects other parts of Santa Rosa, he said.

The city plans to build a permanent replacement fire station eventually, Lowenthal said. But even the opening of a temporary firehouse marks a milestone for the scarred neighborhood, he said.

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


This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com.

“Even though it’s reduced, it’s still there,” he said.

Tests show clean water

Two rounds of tests in a portion of Fountaingrove have shown no water contamination since a drinking water advisory was lifted Oct. 11, according to the city. The results represent another mark of progress after the city last year detected that benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, had leached into the water system from melted plastic pipes in the area.

Ben Horenstein, the city water director, told the City Council recently that staff continued to test water at dozens of Fountaingrove sites and were pleased with the results so far.

“One hundred percent of the data has come back nondetect,” Horenstein said. “And that really is giving us great confidence that the plan we put into place was successful and this issue is largely behind us.”

The city plans to continue testing the water for several months.

It has spent about $8 million to deal with the tainted water problem, including targeted replacement of infrastructure and testing.

Horenstein said that “indications are promising that we will get reimbursement through FEMA.”