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Petaluma affordable housing projects debuted

Tuesday night’s planning commission meeting featured a first look at two housing projects that could bring 90 affordable units to a city strapped by the high cost of living and a dearth of accommodation for low-income residents.

Foster City-based nonprofit affordable housing developer MidPen Housing is proposing a 42-unit residential complex at 414 Petaluma Blvd. North near Lakeville Street, a depressed portion of the main boulevard undergoing revitalization efforts. The other proposal, submitted by Santa Rosa affordable housing developer Burbank Housing, would construct 50 units at 1601 Petaluma Blvd. South near the Highway 101 overpass.

Unlike most of the housing projects that appear before the seven-member advisory Planning Commission, both projects qualified for a streamlined ministerial review process made possible by SB35.

Since Petaluma has not met affordable housing construction goals outlined by the state’s regional housing needs assessment, qualifying developers like MidPen and Burbank can opt to use the streamlined approval process to expedite affordable housing construction.

The process in part removes the requirements for an environmental analysis, conditional use permit authorizations or other entitlements, yet must comply with the city’s zoning and objective design standards. Neither affordable housing developers were required to bring the projects to the Planning Commission under the SB35 review process, but chose to do so in order to collect community input and increase transparency, according to Planning Manager Heather Hines.

Several public comments criticizing the projects named traffic congestion and parking among their chief concerns.

All but one of the 42 MidPen units will be priced as rentals for those earning between 30% and 80% of area median income, geared toward those earning between $23,000 and $68,000 a year. The remaining unit is reserved for an on-site manager.

The Burbank Housing project’s 50 units are designated along similar lines, reserving one for a manager while the remaining rentals serve households earning low incomes, very low incomes and extremely low incomes compared to the area average.

The project has not yet specified how many units will serve each respective three low-income tiers or rent amounts. Of the proposed 50 units, 15 will be one-bedroom, 20 two-bedrooms and 15 three-bedrooms. Burbank’s project is connected to the proposed 405-unit Downtown Station apartment complex next to the downtown SMART station, partly fulfilling the downtown developer’s affordable housing requirements as mandated by city ordinance.

However, the Burbank Housing project’s steps forward are currently uncertain, as the project is one of the three developments associated with the complex Corona Road Station project. A group of citizens recently took steps toward filing a lawsuit against the Corona Road Station landowner Lomas Partners. The legal action could delay the 405-unit Downtown Station apartment complex and its connected off-site Burbank affordable housing project.

Ali Gaylord with MidPen Housing said monthly rents for the project will start at about $500 for a one-bedroom and reach just over $1,500 for a three-bedroom unit. Just under half of the 41 affordable units will be one-bedrooms, while the remaining 22 will be split between two-bedroom and three-bedrooms. Gaylord said construction is anticipated to begin March 2021 and last approximately 15 months, aiming to begin leasing fall 2021.

According to the most recent 2018 Annual Housing Report for Petaluma, the city met just 5% of the targets to build very low income units and 1% of the low income unit targets. Out of 750 building permits, the city issued a combined 27 approvals for low and very low income units. The vast majority of housing built in 2018 caters to those earning above moderate income.

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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