Council seeks changes on Maria Drive luxury rentals project

The Petaluma City Council was divided Monday between those concerned about the high density and design of a proposed 144-unit apartment complex on Maria Drive and those who believe it would fulfill a need for more rental housing in town.

The Petaluma City Council tabled the proposed development, which the Planning Commission had recommended approving in August. The decision surprised many, as, in the recent past, the Planning Commission has been more inclined to recommend against proposed projects than the City Council, which usually approves the same projects on appeal. But at Monday's meeting, the City Council told developers of the luxury apartment complex at 35 Maria Drive to reduce its size and bring it back for further review.

The land in question, located near a residential area on Maria Drive, is currently zoned for mixed-use commercial. This designation allows for 176 residences and 500,000 square feet of commercial space on the 5.85-acre parcel. Currently, the site is home to a partially occupied medical office building.

Councilmembers Chris Albertson and Teresa Barrett, along with Mayor David Glass, worried about putting such a dense development in a residential neighborhood and the traffic impacts that added homes would bring to the area.

"The problems this project creates are all driven by its density," said Barrett.

Councilmember Mike Healy also expressed density and traffic concerns, but mostly took issue with the design of the project, saying he didn't think it met the "luxury" billing the developers had given it.

"We should not be shy about demanding the highest quality of design on projects," he said, saying that the project lacked many luxury amenities, such as elevators. "These just don't seem luxury in the long run."

Several concerned councilmembers said that a downsized, 100-unit project would be much more favorable to them and asked the developer, JDA West, to rework the project with a lower number of units.

"All of the issues go away with a medium–density residential classification, with about eight to 18 units allowed per acre," said Glass. This would allow for a maximum of 105 units on site. "It would be compatible to what's there now, it would be in the range of the immediate neighborhood and I've got no problem with this if it's…about 100 units."

But Councilmembers Mike Harris, Gabe Kearney and Kathy Miller supported the original 144-unit proposal, saying that the apartments would fulfill an important housing need in Petaluma. The city's rental vacancy rate is currently at 2 percent, making it very difficult for people to find affordable housing.

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