Planning news: Svanstrom exiting, and objections to the Canopy project
Planning Director Kari Svanstrom is resigning; also, a recap of planning commission meeting on the draft EIR for the Canopy condo project
The big news in planning this week is the resignation of Sebastopol planning director Kari Svanstrom and the planning commission meeting on the Draft EIR for the Canopy project.
Svanstrom relocating to Arizona
Sebastopol planning director Kari Svanstrom sent a letter to city staff yesterday announcing that she’d be leaving her post. She also announced her resignation at the end of the planning commission meeting last night, saying she and her husband are moving to Arizona to be closer to family. She will stay on the job until mid-February.
Svanstrom joined the staff as planning director in August 2018 and has overseen a raft of local development projects, including Huntley Square, the Dan Davis Townhomes, and more. Before coming to Sebastopol, she served as a senior planner and the interim director of planning for the city of Mill Valley.
She has always been tremendously helpful to me as a reporter covering development issues in Sebastopol, and I will miss her.
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Neighbors worry about Canopy project’s density and traffic and say the project violates parts of the city’s General Plan
The Canopy Project, a condominium development behind the O’Reilly building at the north end of town, has been winding its way through the city’s development process for a couple of years.
The project’s developer, City Ventures, is proposing to build 80 solar, all-electric, three-story townhome-style condominiums, with the potential for up to 16 ADA ADUs, on a 6.1-acre lot, dotted with gnarled Gravenstein apple and native trees.
The lot is wedged between the O’Reilly buildings, the West County Trail, and the Hurlbut neighborhood. The residents of that neighborhood have been adamant in their opposition to the project, which in terms of density hasn’t changed much since it was first announced in 2019.
Condominiums in Sebastopol are normally limited to two stories, but according to the staff report, “the project applicant proposes the use of a State Density Bonus to allow for a waiver to increase the building height to three stories.”
The city released the project’s draft EIR to the public for comments on Dec. 7, 2023. Last night’s meeting was the public’s last chance to comment on the report and have their comments (and the planning department’s responses to those comments) included in the Draft Final EIR that is expected to be returned to the planning commission this spring for approval or denial.
If the planning commission approves the Draft Final EIR, the project will go before the city council for final approval or denial.
Director of Planning Kari Svanstrom led the meeting, laying out the purpose and structure of the evening. Because this meeting dealt with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), there were a few differences from normal protocol; the main one being that when the public asked questions or made comments, those would be answered in writing, not verbally, and, if they were relevant, they’d be included in the next draft of the EIR.
Jacob Harris was the first of a string of Hurlbut neighbors and others to speak against the project.
“After hearing about the Canopy project, I spoke with my neighbors to see how they felt about it,” Harris said. “They were not too excited about it for a few reasons. But I think that the main complaint is that it is not conforming with the neighborhood. Let me read to you from the General Plan for Sebastopol. It says in Policy CD 1-2: ‘City will insure that new residential and commercial development is sensitive to the surrounding architecture, topography landscape, character, scale, and ambience of the surrounding neighborhood.’ So the point being, there are no three-story and hardly any two-story buildings in the neighborhood so the plan of Canopy does not conform to the city’s General Plan.”
He continued reading from the city’s general plan: “‘The land use element provides for development and resource conservation pattern that preserves and protects Sebastopol’s unique character, small-town feel, family-oriented neighborhoods,’ and we don't feel it conforms with that as well.”
He also said the Canopy project violated the General Plan’s call for “orderly growth.”
“We don't feel that we have orderly growth because, for one example, the traffic right now backs up to Hurlbut from downtown and if we put in 96 more units, which is probably close to 200 more people, it's not going to make that any better. So again, not conforming to your general plan.”
Eleven other speakers followed.
Sean McGuire re-emphasized the traffic issues, especially regarding the egress through the O’Reilly parking lot and issues with traffic coming from the charter school next door.
“This project is trying to have 100 units. Residents exit and enter through a business's parking lot?” he said. “How are people going to turn left from O'Reilly onto 116 South crossing traffic? They won't be able to go through the entrance and exit to the school. In the morning and afternoon, it's going to be an absolute nightmare for 200 families,” he said. He also noted that evacuation in case of wildfire also seemed difficult. “Just from a safety standpoint, 100 units trying to exit through a parking lot does not seem like a very good idea to me.”
Richard Murphy and Nina Redman shared these concerns about traffic. “The traffic is going to be absolutely horrendous,” Murphy said.
Irenne Magoulas, who lives across the street from the O’Reilly building, was concerned about the traffic, flooding and evacuation issues. “What are you going to do to keep us safe?” she asked the commission.
Anne Casey-Nielson spoke against the addition of the third story. She argued that the project was out of character for the town. “I’m a former Stanford medical professional. If I wanted to remain in Silicon Valley, I would have stayed in Silicon Valley,” she said. (This got the biggest laugh of the evening.) Instead she said she moved to Sebastopol because it was small and quaint—something she obviously felt the Canopy project was not.
When it came time for the planning commissioners to weigh in, they too had concerns.
Planning Commissioner Deborah Burnes said, “I do feel a lot of loss with this, and I think this is something we really need to consider as a commission. You know, there's the infrastructure issue we have in Sebastopol—traffic is absolutely outrageous already.”
She was also concerned, from a safety standpoint, about there being no entrance or exit onto Hurlbut—something the neighbors had campaigned against in previous meetings. “I don't know how we can evacuate all these people—I mean we're dealing with all these fires. I don't know what the water impact is going to be. I read the report and it said that there would be sufficient water. Where's this water coming from?”
In summation, she said, “I do think that it doesn't fit within our general plan.”
Planning Commissioner Kathy Oetinger echoed Burne’s call for an emergency exit onto Hurlbut .She also thought the traffic consequences of the project would be citywide and wondered why the traffic section didn’t look at the project’s effect on the Highway 12/116 junction and its effect on Occidental Road to the north.
Planning Chair Evert Fernandez said, “I have a lot of concerns with this from different impacts: height, the displacement of water, the use of water etc.” He also wondered about its cumulative impact on traffic, as the project will be coming on the heels of the similarly sized Woodmark project on Bodega Avenue.
Planning Commissioner Paul Fritz had sent his comments ahead of time. They were mostly just clarification and corrections. You can see them here.
These questions and comments will be answered as best they can by the city staff in the next draft of the EIR, which is tentatively scheduled to come back to the Planning Commission in mid-March.
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