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photo credit: Marc Albert/KRCB
The future of the shuttered Sonoma Developmental Center has been decided, at least in concept. But the most contentious aspect---the eventual number of homes on the site---remains something of a mystery. 
Slightly scaled back, but still ambitious redevelopment plans for nearly 1,000-acres of Sonoma Valley were approved Friday at the end of a nine-hour-marathon Board of Supervisors session.
Back and forth at the hearing centered on bringing that number into focus. For Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents the area, the planning commission's recommendation for 1,000 units was unworkable.
"We really need to scale back the development on this site," she said, "and if that's the case, then I'm going to agree to 600-units."
Gorin, and the rest of the board, ultimately agreed on 620.
But 620 isn't really 620. Complex and layered local and state incentives and bonuses make the final tally opaque. Under recently-approved state housing laws, incentives and bonuses available to whoever develops the property could push the number to between 651 and 930. Similar local rules to encourage residential construction might push the figure even higher.
There was also resistance among board members to a hotel, though that possibility ultimately survived the meeting. Wording was added to allow a conference center and climate research facility in its place.
Whether the scaled back proposal is economically viable is something Supervisor David Rabbitt doubts.
"It would be another one of those specific plans that will go on a shelf and never see itself through to fruition," he said.
County staffers told the board that because of infrastructure needs, the financing gap for each market rate unit would be an estimated $170,000, nearly twice the hole of the planning commission's 1,000-unit proposal.
"Plans on the shelf that don't get implemented are the plans that are fiscally upside down and this plan is fiscally upside-down. At the end of the day, the state may look at it in a different fashion because, how do you put something on the market that has a hole of nearly eighty million dollars. You're going to have to pay someone to take it off your hands to move it forward," Rabbitt added. 
With the county's approvals, the project moves to Sacramento where state officials will evaluate it and invite proposals from developers. The winning team would then negotiate a community benefits agreement with the county. Exactly when isn't clear.
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