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Boyes Springs Food Market project review

At the recent Springs Community Alliance meeting, Tim Sloat, of KSMattson Partners LP, made a presentation of the Boyes Springs Food Market project. The owners of the property are Ken and Stacy Mattson, who also own Sonoma’s Best, the Moon Mountain property, and according to an internet search, also numerous properties in Sacramento, Fairfield, Piedmont, Vacaville, and a real state/ property management company in Sacramento. KS Mattson is also in the process of developing the old Springs Lanning property in a project called Noodle Springs, this in collaboration with Sondra Bernstein of Girl and the Fig. And, they are currently building  another project in Lovall Valley Rd. Impressions of Boyes Springs Food Center project I was favorably impressed by the architecture, drawings and plans for the Boyes Springs Food Center property. I like the integration of styles, the inclusion of modern sensibilities, the roof decks and other creative, cutting edge ideas like elevator parking. My overall sense is that KS Mattson is an innovative group who want to be good community actors. Tim Sloat said in the presentation that the Mattsons are “invested in a community sense, long term.” The Mattsons are going beyond the call of duty by being sensitive to current tenants on the property, offering transition housing, and offering them first crack at affordable units to be developed, and also offering to negotiate rent prices down if need be. When I compare this approach to other developers, who grudgingly present the minimum affordable unit quota and nothing more, I get the sense of the type of developer I have been hoping for: one who, after they already have it made, can offer something back and don’t just need more, more, more money. Breaking even or even taking a bit of a haircut is something that the very wealthy can do for the community. And why not? Some of the biggest money actors have pledged to give it all away. In general, the Mattsons have an upside and social consciousness to them that only one other high-wealth developer in town seems to have. More of this style and approach would be great from the local developer class. Is it reasonable to expect KS Mattson to fix all the regional issues of housing affordability and gentrification in one project? No. Is it reasonable to think a developer of social conscience and good will could set the bar higher and tip other developers in a better direction? Yes. Mixed use, planned development The project is mixed use, having a commercial component, with a market, restaurant and storefronts (dwellings above) in front of the main residential area in the back. They are applying for a Planned Development, which means they are asking for variances, likely due to lot size and shape, and if the deal is accepted, for the variances and exceptions, the Mattsons will be obligated to give some positive features back to the community. A market is proposed, “a version of Sonoma’s Best” sans wine tasting, tentatively called “Boyes Best.” Something with “a different vibe” than the Boyes Food Center.  Mr. Sloat was then quick to say “but not gentrification.” One member of the public commented that a real market would be good here, given that the Springs is a known food desert. Tom Martin said, “we need a real market.” The Zen of not gentrifying gentrification? This is where the goals of fixing up an old Springs property start to collide with an inevitable increase in values and rents that will have the effect of gentrifying even if that is anticipated and tried to be mitigated. The current mix has a level of ethnic and cultural integration, a demographic, which the Mattsons see and value, but which may inevitably be undone by the introduction of a Sonoma’s Best, high-end type vibe. Only by really sticking to a plan to preserve the ethnic diversity in the Springs, can the effects of inevitable gentrification be substantially addressed. What gives the Springs its current character is exactly what will be lost in a new modern development. This then starts to get wound up in real processes of urban evolution, and notions of “progress.” One person’s blight is another’s character, and in a diverse community, all the collective hopes and dreams go into the mix, and those with the wherewithal and money drive the change. Many folks in the Springs want a type of Sonoma’s Best vibe, more cosmopolitan, an upscale, local, street-front alternative to the Sonoma Plaza area. This cohort does not want high density affordable housing everywhere, they want an upscale hang out in walking distance from their home. Fair enough. Affordable housing Mr. Sloat mentioned that the county requirement for affordable housing units for this project, was only two! For this whole project of 37 residential units. Affordable means that those who make a range around the area median income, or AMI, can afford the rents at 30% of their annual income. Sloat went on to say that KS Mattson was going to offer eight units, or 21% of the residential units as affordable, and that this was a generous offer. This may be the case when compared to the county rules for a mixed use project/ planned development. Compared to Sonoma however, a 20% inclusionary requirement is the minimum. This means KS Mattson is possibly playing the numbers a little here, in that 20% is already normal, not generous, and in order to be truly generous, an affordable inclusion would be more like 25% or 30%. 50% inclusion with 100% electric/solar ready A 2018 Sonoma County Just and Resilient Recovery Platform, made by a coalition of North Bay Jobs With Justice, Transition Sonoma Valley, 350 Bay Area, and Sonoma County Conservation Action is asking for a 50% inclusion of affordable units in new residential developments. Not only does the county need housing stock in general, the housing affordability crisis calls for more than old levels of affordable unit inclusion. The above coalition is also calling for new building to be 100% electric and solar ready. Mattsons are doing more than average To the Mattson’s credit, they are focusing on very low, low, and moderate income tenants for the affordable inclusion, and not trying to pass by only 120% AMI as “affordable.” I would suggest that county planning and zoning actors leverage some more affordable units here, in exchange for the Planned Development variance. For example, eight below AMI affordable as proposed and eight more at 120%, 140% and 160% AMI. Furthermore, Mr. Sloat’s presentation did not go into detail on the square footage of the affordable residential units. In other similar projects, the affordable units all get the worst, noisiest locations, at very low square footage, like 800 square feet per unit. It would be good to see just exactly what the location and size of the affordable units will be here in the Boyes Springs Food Center project. Perhaps Mr. Sloat can provide the public with links to the county planning documents online? Parking red flag Finally, the persistent bugaboo, parking. From the experience of how KS Mattson has managed their parking at Sonoma’s Best, which can be said to be an unregulated free-for-all with serious unaddressed public safety risks, I would say that the Mattson track record in town so far has been to push the edge of acceptable parking boundaries, and to take as much extra, on-street parking as possible. With no apparent county traffic rules or enforcement, and the county seeming to not care a whit, KS Mattson has filled the vacuum by taking over a whole rural intersection like Israeli settlement facts on the ground. This parking strategy does not bode well for the Springs where a lot of parking volume has been eliminated from the Highway 12. Look for “Boyes Best” to really mess up traffic and parking in the Springs at daily coffee times. Why go head to head with the Roasting Dog, that already has a nice coffee scene? That will only take away business from a long term valley enterprise. Conclusion In my opinion, the architecture and design is very good. The Mattsons are good actors modeling to other developers how to be better, compassionate citizens in a time of great affordable housing need. The good citizen example could be more, to bring it past what is the minimum required in Sonoma. it is likely the Mattsons can afford to do more; why not?  Parking is a red flag already at Sonoma’s Best, so buyer beware in the Springs. Anyone with feedback on the Boyes Springs food Center project can write Tim Sloat at [email protected]          
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