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Forestville's Town Square Development

Concern Growing
over Forestville's proposed Town Square Development
By Vesta Copestakes

The Thiessen/Crinella project that is designed to occupy eight acres of downtown Forestville is generating more and more concern as stories of the Windsor Town Green's shortcomings increase. The project has never been an easy sell to the populace of this small town because of how drastically it will change the personality of the community, but people have long wanted a downtown park where they can sit with friends near shops. Yes, the town has the Forestville Youth Park just a half mile down Mirabel Road, but that's far enough from the center of town and shopping that residents felt the need for a community gathering place in the center of downtown. The Thiessen Town Square offers just that - and more.

Fighting what was once called the Crinella Project has been a part of Forestville history for decades. The 70+ acre Crinella property has gone through more designs and re-designs than perhaps any piece of property in Sonoma County. From more than 300 homes, a shopping center and school to a golf course, the only project that got a community nod was the golf course because it only marginally threatened Green Valley Creek. But as time went on that project faded into the distance and soon an organic vineyard went up on the majority of the land. Many people became complacent with this lovely view so familiar to Sonoma County.

Then Orrin Thiessen met Ramona Crinella and all that peace and tranquility shifted to growth and development once more. Not too long ago the county approved a low density development for Crinella's 62 acre vineyard property, scattered homes and a winery, that shifted the density to her 8 acres destined for the Town Square. Locking the 62 acres into low density with vineyards felt comfortable to most Forestvillians who treasure the view toward the Atascadero Valley. These homes are limited to one story and are widely scattered so the view remains.

Numerous town meetings hosted by the Forestville Planning Association have been held over the last few years to gather input from community residents on what they do and do not want for this development. The focus has mainly been on the Town Square itself, a small piece of park at the center of the project facing downtown. When Thiessen presented drawings of the buildings surrounding the square and going back into the property with townhouses, people discussed the architectural elements in terms of style, how it fit into the town's personality, how it represented local history, etc. Many of the residents' requests were considered in the final design presented to the community early last fall.

But for many people, the drawings came as a shock. What they saw in two dimensions was an eight acre version of Windsor's Town Green Village with a smaller park at the center. The enormity of the project got people's attention and they started talking.

"I like the idea of a place to meet friends and sit outside, but this project is too big for our small town."

"This is going to completely change our home!"

"Where are all the people coming from who are going to shop at these stores. Our current businesses are suffering!"

"This is HUGE. It doesn't fit in Forestville!"

"I thought is was going to be Green. Where are the solar panels and passive solar design?"

"It's all about upscale shops designed for tourists. There's nothing useful going in - that's not Forestville!"

"How are we going to handle all the increased traffic?"

"The buildings are gigantic! They look like Knotts Berry Farm!"

"This development is riding on the backs of small business entrepreneurs. The developer won't suffer - it's the shop keepers who sign leases then go down the tubes who will pay."

"You just know they're going to get 'chains' in here. Look what they're doing in Windsor!"

"We wanted a community center, not a super-development!"

"What's wrong with what we have? All it needs is to be cleaned up a bit."

"The increased traffic is going to choke our town. That bypass will never get built and we'll have even more cars adding to the congestion going through town."

"What's going to happen to our existing downtown? Will it become a ghost town?"

"There's nothing for families here. It's designed for upscale mature couples. We're a family community. It doesn't fit."

"What's with the boutique hotel? Wouldn't a grocery store be better?"

"In THIS economy? They're nuts!"

One concern is that the Permit Resource Management Department has stated that Forestville is zoned Urban, and Hwy 116, although designated a Scenic Highway, is still considered a traffic corridor and development is slated for these areas. The fact that Forestville is still low density and residents have to commute distances to work and shopping doesn't dissuade them from this perspective. Urban highway corridors get high density developments... period. And when a PRMD staff member expressed sympathy for the Crinella family for all the travails they have suffered over the years changing from one plan to another, people became concerned that this plan would get fast-tracked just to give the Crinellas a long-deserved break.

There are still people in town who don't believe either this or the bypass will ever happen. That could easily just be wishful thinking. Orrin Thiessen told recent Town Meeting attendees that the current plan is to break ground in 2009. The Forestville Planning Association hired a professional urban planner to review the park aspect of the development because PRMD asked for changes in the park and parking when it went before design review. What this means to Forestvillians is that the plan is going through the process of getting approved. This is definitely a case of speak now or live with the consequences.

One thing is certain... Forestville is no longer a sleepy town. New homes are sprouting up and summer cabins are getting remodeled into year round homes. Traffic is increasing and demographics are changing from families with children to mature individuals who can afford the elevated home prices. Change is inevitable but that doesn't mean Forestville's unique personality has to get lost in the process.

There will be two public hearings after Design Review approves the project. One is at PRMD and the other is at the Board of Supervisors. Talking among ourselves does little to influence the process. If people's concerns are to be respected and heeded, they need to write letters and attend hearings.

You can sign up for e-mail updates on scheduled meetings and hearings of these departments at: www.sonoma-county.org.

To View the complete set of drawings of Forestville Town Square from the West County Gazette Archives of Volume 4, Number 7, July 19 - August 16, 2007:
The Future of Forestville Part 1
The Future of Forestville Part 2

To read a subsequent story on the Green aspects of this development from the West County Gazette archives of Volume 4, Number 11, November 15 - December 13, 2007:
Forestville Development Green Building Part 1
Forestville Development Green Building Part 2

For PRMD - go to: www.sonoma-county.org/prmd/
The Permit Resource Management Department is located at 2550 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA 95403.(707) 565-1900
Design Review meets the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month at 1:30pm.
The Planning Commission meets the 1st and 3rd Thursday of each month at 1:00 p.m.

For the Board of Supervisors got to: www.sonoma-county.org/board/
The Board of Supervisors meets every Tuesday starting at 8:30 am in the Board of Supervisors Chambers at 575 Administration Drive, Room 102A, Santa Rosa, California. (707) 565-2241



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