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Vote delayed on Riverfront senior living facility

Jul 01, 2023Jul 01, 2023

The Petaluma Planning Commission put off voting on a proposed senior living facility until changes could be made to its “flat” and “drab” architectural design.

Consideration of the mixed-use project in the larger Riverfront development project, which would include a 106-unit senior living facility and ground-floor commercial space, was delayed during the July 25 meeting due to a number of concerns, including a featureless facade that commissioners felt needed improvement.

“I’ve got to say that I am somewhat disappointed in what I think is a certain lack of imagination,” said newly appointed Commissioner Kevin Kelly, who also worked for decades as an architect. “I am almost 72 and I could end up in this place, and I’ve got to tell you, this does not look like a place I would love.”

Although they generally supported the idea behind the Spirit Living mixed-use development, multiple commissioners were also heard saying, “I’m not saying no, but I’m not saying yes” to the project, which proposes a four-story building with 73,509 square feet of space at 500 Hopper St.

The project would include ground-floor retail and restaurant space, as well as kitchen and laundry facilities, with a senior living community on the above three floors. But first, commissioners said, it should be beautified a bit.

“I think the neighborhood would benefit from a little more variety on the facade, whether it’s color, whether it’s design elements, windowsill planters, just something to break up the mass and bring a little bit more softness,” said Commissioner Rick Whisman.

The project site is located at the center of the larger 35-acre Riverfront mixed-use development that was approved by the City Council in 2014, and is surrounded by the recently completed Courtyard Marriott hotel to the north, playing fields and a playground to the west, single-family homes to the south and a central green to the east.

Because the Spirit Living project is a departure from the original project analyzed in the Riverfront EIR nearly a decade ago, an addendum to that EIR was prepared in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act.

In an applicant statement, San Anselmo-based Spirit Living Group – which develops, owns and operates senior housing communities in the Bay Area – said the project’s ground floor would be commercial retail, its second floor set aside for “frail seniors who need more care and services” including those “who may develop memory loss,” and its third and fourth floors divided into 70 units ranging from studios to one- and two-bedroom apartments.

“These apartments are nearly identical to a non-age-restricted multi-family apartment project, with private bathrooms, kitchens and washer/dryer in each unit,” Spirit Living said.

A total of 40 vehicle parking spaces would be incorporated in the project, along with a 351-square-foot bicycle storage room at the north end of the building.

But traffic remained among the concerns during the public hearing, particularly vehicle traffic after completion of the Caulfield Lane crosstown connector, which could become an important bridge over the Petaluma River within the next few years.

“There are a lot of traffic issues that need to get tightened up,” said Commissioner Roger McErlane.

Tied to that were concerns about the project’s overall walkability and access to nearby amenities.

“I don’t want this to be a place where seniors go and they feel trapped,” said Commissioner Blake Hooper, who chairs the commission.

Trees, natural landscaping and overall greenery was part of that topic of discussion.

“It just feels like there’s not enough green space, there are not enough trees, there are not enough areas where you want to walk out and feel like you’re someplace,” said Vice Mayor Janice Cader Thompson, the City Council’s current liaison to the Planning Commission. Cader Thompson also questioned the lack of solar panels and EV chargers in the proposed project.

The project is expected to return to the Planning Commission at a later date to be determined.

Amelia Richardson is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at [email protected] or 707-521-5208.