Another delay for off-Plaza development

Posted on May 19, 2010 by Sonoma Valley Sun

A hot topic was put on slow burn when the first formal public hearing on plans to develop 165 E. Spain Street was postponed by the Planning Commission. The panel granted a request by the Sonoma League for Historic Preservation to delay any decision until June, when the league attorney is able to attend.

Loyce Haran, SLHP president, said the preservation attorney it had retained could not attend the May 13 commission meeting due to a scheduling conflict. Architect Bill Willers called the move a delaying tactic.

The vote to continue the discussion and delay any decision until its June 24 meeting was approved 5 to 2. While Commissioner Ray Gallian had little sympathy for the schedule conflict, Commissioner Robert Felder spoke for the majority when he said, “If we’ve waited five years, we can wait one more month.”

What will ultimately be considered is the Environmental Impact Report for the project, an impartial, 500+-page analysis commissioned by the city of Sonoma. Only if and when the Planning Commission certifies that report can the project move forward.
Mission Square, as presented by architect Bill Willers, of Sonoma’s Marcus Willers Architects, is a complex of 16 apartments, 3,500 sq. feet of office space and 46 parking places. Compared to the prior design, a controversial plan shelved in 2007, the overall square footage has been nearly halved, Willers said, and the density is far less than the zoning allowance.
The build-out is 20 percent of what could legally be constructed, Willers said.

Haran, president of the league for historic preservation, asked the commission for the postponement. “We are not authorities,” she said. “This is not our area of expertise.”

Heron did say that there were two subjects within the EIR of particular concern to the league. One is if the project fits into the cultural landscape. The other concern, under the term geo-technical, is if construction activity could send harmful vibrations to nearby historic structures, the Blue Wing Inn and the Sonoma Mission.

Willers contended that those issues and any related mitigating factors were indeed covered in the EIR. “Those issues, if they are even issues at all, have been related to the project since we began the process,” said Willers. “Raising them at the twelfth hour is just another delaying tactic.”

As for the vibration issue, Willers said the EIR includes a CalTrans formula for allowable vibration. It shows construction at 165 E. Spain would be well below the threshold for fragile, historic buildings, he said.

The initial plan for the 1.15-acre site, in 2002, called for a 34-room hotel and 10 apartments. It was widely opposed by neighbors and the league, who felt the scale of that and the subsequent 2007 design would overwhelm the neighborhood’s historical ambience.

The EIR describing the new, scaled-back plan is based on that input, Willers said. “To be here in 2010 having to address an item that could have been brought up at the beginning… it seems like we’re being delayed intentionally.”