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City Council sends plans for apartment complex back to drawing board


Developers of a high-end apartment complex in east Petaluma will need to reconsider their plans if they want to continue with their proposal before the City Council.

After a hearing Monday night that lasted past midnight, it appeared there weren't the necessary four votes to win approval for San Francisco developer JDA West's 144-unit complex at 35 Maria Drive, southeast of the Washington Square shopping center off South McDowell Boulevard.

The hearing was continued to an undetermined date to give the company an opportunity to determine whether a project that would satisfy the council's concerns would pencil out financially.

In August, the Planning Commission recommended approval of a general plan amendment and a zoning change to allow the complex, billed as a luxury development where 1,000-square-foot units would rent for $2,000 a month.

Following the commission's recommendations, a group of neighbors urged the city to require a full environmental impact report beyond what has been analyzed. JDA West argued the group hadn't met the legal burden to prove additional environmental study was needed.

At Monday's council meeting, several neighbors spoke against the project, saying it's density is incompatible with their neighborhood of single-family homes. Several council members had similar concerns.

Neighbors also objected to what they believe will be excessive traffic, noise, pollution, a lack of privacy, and reduced property values as a result of the apartment complex. The parcel currently has a half-empty office complex on it.

"It's inappropriate for this street in this area," said neighbor Kathleen Garvey.

"Our neighborhood is going to be probably destroyed," said Stanley Dettner, who said he has lived in the area for 44 years.

City planners noted that the proposed complex is smaller than is allowed on the nearly 6-acre parcel now. It is currently zoned mixed-use, which would allow for a shopping center and as many as 176 residential units.

JDA West spokesman Marty Brill said current zoning would allow for 637,000 square feet of development and 30 units of housing per acre. His company is proposing 147,000 square feet and density of 25 units an acre.

"The property today is struggling both physically and operationally," he said. "We view this as a great opportunity to improve an under-utilized site in an area that could use some improvement."

Planners said the city needs more apartments, not office space.

A study done for the project shows Petaluma has about a 2 percent vacancy rate for apartments. In comparison, office vacancies are at about 25 percent. An office-space vacancy rate of about 10 percent is considered healthy, according to real estate experts.

Councilmembers Kathy Miller, Mike Harris and Gabe Kearney said they approved of the project, noting the need for rental housing. Mayor David Glass and Councilmembers Mike Healy, Teresa Barrett and Chris Albertson expressed concerns over the planned density and design of the project.

Brill said earlier in the meeting that 144 units was at the bottom of what makes financial sense for the company. He declined comment following the meeting about what the company may do now.