Apartments, a hotel and shops could be built on the former State Farm site in Rohnert Park within two years as the city seeks to accelerate construction of its much-desired downtown.
Rohnert Park City Council on Tuesday rejected a plan that would have called for tax increases or reduced services to pay for a more ambitious concept that featured greater density. Instead, the council opted for a project that closely mirrors plans already approved for the property.
This would allow the city to minimize additional infrastructure investment to meet increased density demands and accelerate the construction schedule by circumventing additional environmental reviews.
The proposal, which was unanimously approved Tuesday by council members, would balance the city’s vision of creating an urban hub while limiting city-funded capital costs and ongoing operating expenses.
City Hall administrators said the plan honors the community’s shared vision for the proposed downtown and sets it in motion after years of delay.
“I want to go as fast as possible,” City Manager Darrin Jenkins told council. “We’ve been talking about downtown for 25 years.
City staff provided council with an overview of various construction timelines, development costs and potential impacts on ratepayers and other elements of the project at a special meeting.
Rohnert Park bought the 30-acre State Farm site for $12.5 million in April from San Francisco-based Laulima Development. The city already owned 2 acres of land on the southwest corner of the site where the city’s public works department is located.
Buying the property is expected to accelerate progress on the plan and give the city more influence over what gets built and how it fits into Rohnert Park’s larger vision for the area.
Laulima purchased the State Farm Drive site in 2017 with plans to build a $400 million residential and commercial development, but construction has stalled. The insurance company left the property in 2011 after relocating employees across the state. Demolition crews razed the building in 2019.
“The idea that an outside entity had control of our destiny … was a deterrent to moving forward with this recreation of Rohnert Park,” Councilman Gerard Giudice said at the meeting. “We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinvent ourselves that will change our city forever.”
Rohnert Park will sell or lease the developable land for the construction of apartments and commercial spaces. The city will build streets, install utilities and build a central plaza.
City staff recommends pursuing a project with a housing density similar to what is already approved for the site.
Plans for Station Avenue, Laulima’s proposed development, called for 460 residential units on approximately 14.5 acres, about half the site. From 185 units to 947 are permitted on the site under existing zoning.
The current plan maximizes the sale value of the land for multi-family housing, according to a staff report.
Jenkins said adding more units may require the construction of a parking lot and greater investment in water supply and sewer capacity to serve additional residents, which would increase construction costs and the financial investment of the city.
Rising project costs would likely mean higher rental rates, which may not be supported by the Rohnert Park housing market, Jenkins said.
Of the 460 units, 15% or 69 units would be labor housing available to households earning up to 80% of the region’s median income. That’s the minimum number of units required by state law on projects built on former city-owned properties, but more than the 15 affordable units that Laulima provides, Jenkins said.
The city manager previously said he was considering less office space than the previously proposed 130,000 square feet as demand for office space has declined during the pandemic. There may also be less commercial space, which the city says could be difficult to develop due to high construction costs and low rental rates.
According to a staff report, Laulima attracted strong interest from real estate developers and hoteliers when marketing the site, including letters of interest with sales prices totaling $32 million for land ready for development. construction with roads and utilities installed. There was less interest in retail and offices, the city found.
Rohnert Park is in the process of updating the current development plans approved for the site in 2018 and has launched a request for proposals for a consultant who will carry out revisions. At issue are the number of housing units, amount of office, retail and open space, general site layout, construction phases and proposed code changes.