David Lindecke had made peace with the new housing project being built behind his backyard.
In fact, most of the Ponderosa Drive residents had, noting that the Altura Apartments in southeast Petaluma would help alleviate the housing shortage, exacerbated by last fall’s destructive wildfires.
The main concern for the residents, though, was their privacy, but they had a creek and plenty of tree cover to shield them from the construction and any wandering eyes when Altura’s 150 apartments, located on the northwest corner of Baywood Drive and Perry Lane, were built and occupied.
On April 10, all of that changed.
The developer, The Reliant Group of San Francisco, removed 12 native oak trees and numerous overhanging branches along the western edge of the project site, exposing seven backyards on Ponderosa Drive to the entire façade of two apartment buildings and the complex’s future pool area.
The city’s deputy planning manager, Kevin Colin, said it was a “clear violation of the terms of their permit,” and there will be a penalty and corrective action plan to extend the height of the boundary wall beyond the city’s six-foot standard, in addition to replanting trees.
The city also placed a red tag on the pool area, forcing remediation before construction can continue. If the developer doesn’t comply, Colin said “there are other remedies the city can seek,” alluding to the potential for litigation.
“We have legal authority to carry out our enforcement action and compel (the developer) to pay some form of money for the violation that occurred, and do (more) planting to obscure the views,” he said.
Lindecke admitted he’s pessimistic about how the resolution process will play out, though. He and his neighbors feel betrayed by a move that seemed “intentional and malicious,” and made the 195 feet between the nearest building and the closest home feel noticeably shorter.
“What you’ve got here is a developer that basically thinks, ‘Meh, I can do whatever I want,’” he said.
Next door to Lindecke is Nathan Kelly, a Petaluma native raising daughters in a home he likened to “an oasis.” His fenced-in backyard features a pool with a slide, a custom shed, and a canopy designed for long afternoons outside.
For years he was accustomed to the dense tree cover and open field on the opposite side of the creek. When word came that apartments were being built, Kelly said he considered moving but his wife implored them to stay since the city made the privacy of the residents and protecting the trees a top priority.
“It was beautiful,” Kelly said, dejectedly looking out onto his backyard. “We would have been naive to think that they weren’t going to (ever) build something there, but the way that we were deceived, it was really bad.”
The Reliant Group did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment. Colin said he hadn’t received an explanation from the developer, either.
The general contractor, Midstate Construction, also did not return calls for comment.
Colin shared an email from Reliant project manager Alberto Lucio with residents at a meeting in City Hall last week. In it, Lucio provided a proposal from the landscape architect to plant 39 Dodonaea shrubs to help screen the views.
Lindecke said that response was “laughable” since the evergreen shrubs would be four to five feet high at installation and require upwards of a year to reach a mature height of 12 feet. The shrubs would be significantly smaller than the oaks, since eight of the 12 trees were 20 feet or taller.