City of Rohnert Park

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What is the Latest on the Downtown?

On March 14th, 2023, the City of Rohnert Park officially declared the downtown property (6400 State Farm Drive) as "Exempt Surplus Land".  This was an important milestone in the project, as the City can now develop the property, either by selling or leasing the land to a developer. 

The Surplus Land Act, passed into California law in 1968, is a law that requires cities to prioritize affordable housing, recreation, and school projects when a city intends to sell its public land. There have been recent changes to the Surplus Land Act, namely Assembly Bill 1486, which limits what a city can do with public property and adds penalties for violating the Surplus Land Act.

What's Next?

The next step is to remove the approvals for the project proposed by Laulima, the prior owner. Removing the approvals allows us to “clear the table” for what is to come, as we are not going to build the Laulima project. It wasn’t feasible for them, and would not be for us.

We also need to set aside an additional acre or so to expand our corporation yard next to the site, which houses many of our Public Works functions. 

In the coming months we will seek public input on an important part of the project: The name for the future downtown. We’ll let you know when we are ready for your thoughts on that topic. 

We are already working to develop a request for qualifications and proposals from qualified development partners. We are looking for developers who will focus on market and affordable housing, open spaces and parks and building retail and restaurants that residents have asked for. We will release this important document later this year.

What Makes a Great Downtown Rohnert Park?

A great downtown Rohnert Park will have something for everyone. For those who enjoy new and unique food and beverage places, you can get there along the walkable blocks and streets with scattered greenery and high-class amenities (i.e. benches, playgrounds, art). For those who want to slow down and enjoy the scenery, those same walkable blocks and streets will lead to pocket parks and a central green space/community square. Others may want to try out downtown residential living, taking advantage of the SMART train Rohnert Park Station being a stone's throw away.

Put simply: a great downtown is a place centered around people and the environment, not the automobile.

What Will Be In the Downtown?

Market Rate Housing. We plan on having between 300 and 375 market rate housing units. Having housing on the property is important, because it will help pay for the affordable housing and the retail establishments in the downtown. Also, we will need to have at least 300 housing units on the property so we can comply with the Surplus Land Act.

Affordable Housing
. We plan on having between 100 and 125 affordable housing units. Affordable housing is another critical piece of the downtown. The Surplus Land Act requires the City to make a percentage of housing units affordable before we can partner with a qualified developer; adding between 100 and 125 units of affordable housing to our community meets the state's intent on delivering more affordable housing and meets our City Council's goals of developing a vibrant community and improving infrastructure and neighborhoods. 

Hotel. There are benefits to having a hotel at the downtown property. Tourism supports the local economy by increasing the money spent at nearby stores and other attractions and generating taxes from visitors. Having the hotel next to the train station allows visitors to take the SMART train from Sonoma County Airport or the Bay Area, thereby reducing traffic in and around Rohnert Park.

Retail. This is the engine that will drive downtown Rohnert Park. Our 2022 Retail Market Analysis states that we can support up to 140,000 square feet of new retail and restaurants. Based on community feedback, we will look for developers who can deliver unique casual and fine dining options, along with brewpubs, entertainment venues, and gift/clothing shops. 

Parks and Open Spaces. Key to our downtown will be community parks, pocket parks, and of course, a central community square. Rohnert Park boasts outstanding community events throughout the year, and we are looking forward to having those community events in the downtown community square. 

We asked two downtown questions in our 2023 Community Survey: what is important in a downtown and what types of businesses should be in a downtown.

When asked what is important in a downtown, we found that a majority of people want:
-new restaurants
-places to sit and socialize
-more outdoor events and festivals
-greenery and open spaces
-a downtown that is walkable.

When asked what types of businesses people want to see, we found that significant majority of people want
-casual restaurants
-entertainment venues
-gift and clothing shops
-fine dining

What Will it Look Like? And What's Form Based Code?

The goal is to make this a walkable downtown where each building connects and blends together -- regardless of whether the building is a two-bedroom apartment, a hot new restaurant, or a fun and quirky retail business.

That is what Form Based Code is. Designing buildings and areas that are inviting, appealing, and work with the existing area and landscape. Below are two examples of traditional "zoning" and Form Based Code.

 Form based Code Example Richmond, CA
 Traditional Zoning vs. Form Based Code - Richmond, CA

  Before and After Form Based Code, Savannah, GA
 Traditional Zoning vs. Form Based Code - Savannah, GA

Traditional zoning is more concerned with the function of the building (i.e. what it will do). This is one of the reasons why our (U.S.) cities have retail in one place, industrial and manufacturing in another place, and residential in another place. If you want to learn more about U.S. zoning and impress your friends and family, check out the video below!

Form Based Code focuses on the look and feel of the buildings. City blocks should be walkable and filled with interesting things to look at, from nice park benches and trees to the facades of the buildings themselves. 

If you are interested, and want to learn more about Form Based Code and start your journey in becoming an urban planner, check out the great introduction video!

How Are the Trees Doing?

One unfortunate issue in recent months is that some of the trees on the property are in poor health. Rohnert Park expects that 33 trees will need to be removed to ensure the public’s safety when on the property. The city was not pleased that the prior owner cut down so many trees before deciding to not proceed with the project and will remove trees only when absolutely necessary. The city’s arborist has determined that 20 Coast Redwoods have declined beyond recovery and will need to be removed at some point. Plenty of new trees will be planted as the downtown is built.

Can We Have More Parks and a Larger Community Square?

Possibly, it depends on the developer the City partners with. However, parks, green spaces, and a large community square is something the City knows is important and will be a vital part to the downtown. This, along with affordable housing and ensuring retail gets built, are the City's priorities for downtown development.

Though the community square looks small in the concepts, looks can be deceiving. Each of the concepts call for a roughly 1-acre community square and will be one of the focal points of the downtown. 

During the Summer of 2022, our Community Services/Parks and Rec Department put on the very successful "Party on the Plaza". We are looking forward to a "Party on the Downtown Plaza" and other Rohnert Park events in the future downtown Rohnert Park!

Why Hasn’t The Project Happened Yet?

The vacant 30-acre State Farm property was privately owned from 2010 to 2022. Because the property was privately held, the City could not take the lead on downtown development. The best we could do was guide and influence development through writing planning policies and processing development plans.

Now that we own the property, we are in a better position to deliver on developing the land. While we will still partner with a qualified developer, the City can have a greater say in how the land gets developed. We have only owned the property for nine months and these types of projects can easily take 20 years to complete due to a number of issues outside of the City’s control. But, the previous work we have done to prepare the site for development, coupled with the City owning the property, will ensure this doesn’t take 20 years to build. 

Do we Have Enough Water to Support this New Development?

The City has three sources of water supply: groundwater, water purchased from Sonoma Water and recycled water. Together these three sources of supply form a very robust water portfolio that allows the City to meet planned demand even in drought years.

As required by state law, Rohnert Park has studies the availability of supply to meet planned demands every five years since 2000 in our Urban Water Management Plan. The most recent Urban Water Management Plan was reviewed and approved by the City Council in 2020 and included the planned downtown, as well as all other growth contemplated by the City’s General Plan. The Urban Water Management Plans consistently show that the City has the water supply available to meet planned growth even in drought years, including multiple drought years. In addition to the regular Urban Water Management Plans, the downtown water supply was studies in the 2016 EIR for the Central Rohnert Park Priority Development Area, which again illustrated that the City’s water supply is sufficient under a range of drought conditions.

Despite our robust local water supply, the City has been requiring our customers to conserve during the recent drought years….this is a result of state mandates that have been handed down the City. While there is never enough water to waste, the City has a strong plan for ensuring that there is a safe and adequate water supply for the economic and social growth.

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