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Sonoma County is moving ever closer to determining how to redevelop the 945-acre property in Glen Ellen that formerly housed the Sonoma Developmental Center, the state hospital that shuttered for good in 2018.

Proposed designs combine housing and infrastructure while at the same time enhancing the site’s historical character and natural beauty. It is what Sonoma County policy manager Bradley Dunn calls an “intentional community,” with walking and bike paths, eateries, a grocery store and housing.

“It’s somewhere that is a vibrant community that people want to live in, where they can walk, where they can interact with their neighbors,” he said.

That doesn’t mean that the entire acreage will be turned into a quaint yet bustling village. According to Dunn, only 180 acres of the site will be developed, leaving more than 700 acres as a preserve.

The state has taken the unusual step of allowing Sonoma County to determine how the land will be used before the state disposes of the property, Dunn said.

“The state created a partnership with us but really allowed us to work with the community to program the land use,” he said. “As long as we protect open space, prioritize housing and affordable housing, and focus on economic development, they will let the county program the land use.”

Setting priorities

Preliminary ideas for the site were presented at the Nov. 1 Board of Supervisors meeting and the county has sought input from the community through workshops, meetings, and an online survey.

So far, the priorities for the land include:

• Expanding the wildlife corridors and preserving over 700 acres.

• Building between 900 and 1,000 units of housing, 250 of which will be affordable housing.

• Enhancing the inner campus’ green spaces and preserving the historic landmarks, such as the “Main Building,” the Sonoma House, and Elridge Cemetery.

• Creating a coordinated mobility plan, such as bike and walking paths and the introduction of a transit system.

Currently, the land is in danger of becoming a “nuisance space” for the state, Dunn said, as much of it is “dilapidated.”

That is why California has given Sonoma County until the end of the year to figure out its priorities for the site and create a timeline.

Up next on the project timeline is an environmental impact report, or EIR, which should be completed by summer.

As to what ultimately happens to the land, Dunn said a developer will most likely buy it from the state, though they will have to respect the “blueprint” laid down by the county. Whoever ends up purchasing it will also have to invest at least $100 million in new infrastructure, said Dunn. But the county is enthusiastic about the possibilities.

“For now, we are really thinking about the type of development we want done and how that will impact the environment,” he said. “At the end of the day, it is both a guiding principle for the development and required under state law that we preserve the open space, and that is really important to us. We’re really proud of the work that we’ve been doing.”