Local and outside builders seek to stake out services in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park

By: Robert Digitale
The Press Democrat | December 9, 2017

Richard Lane needs a builder to replace his burned Coffey Park home. Along with his neighbors, he has plenty of choices.

At least a half-dozen home construction companies are offering to rebuild houses in the northwest Santa Rosa neighborhood, where more than 1,300 homes were destroyed in October by a historic wildfire.

Lane, a former theatrical fight choreographer, and his wife are leaning toward hiring Tux Tuxhorn, the same developer who originally built their two-story Crimson Lane house. The former city planning commissioner even lived in the home for almost 15 years, from 1991 to 2004.

Neighbors introduced the two men at a meeting a few weeks after the fires. After a few conversations with Tuxhorn, Lane told his wife, Alison, “Even in this darkest hour, someone is offering us a flashlight.”

Many Coffey Park survivors still don’t know exactly how much their insurance companies will provide them to rebuild their tract homes in that compact middle-class neighborhood. Nor do most know how much they must pay a builder to actually construct the houses.

But at least they know that construction companies are vying for their business.

The builders include local firms like Gallaher Homes, Synergy Communities by Christopherson and APM Homes, as well as DeNova Homes of Concord and Stonefield Companies from Southern California.

The businesses are taking different approaches. Some are limiting their efforts to those streets where they or family members previously built homes, with a plan to essentially rebuild the same house designs. Others plan to build throughout the neighborhood, some touting new floor plans and others offering to work with residents to develop new designs.

For now, construction prices remain mostly in flux as builders try to pin down costs for labor, site preparation, and home designs.

But one builder, Gallaher Homes, has influenced the discussion on prices by announcing on the company’s Bring Back Coffey Park website that it will build new homes and provide construction financing with a local bank for a total of $280 a square foot. For property owners, that figure provides an important reference point after hearing talk that the work could exceed $400 per square foot — far surpassing what many say their insurance policies will cover.

Gallaher Homes, owned by longtime Santa Rosa builders Bill and Cindy Gallaher, also has said it will buy cleaned lots in the neighborhood for between $105,000 and $125,000. And it has arranged to offer construction loans and mortgages through Poppy Bank, formerly First Community Bank, where Bill Gallaher is a co-founder and chairman of the board.

In response to Gallaher’s pronouncement, other builders have said they expect to match or beat a price of $280 per square foot.

“It’s great to have choices,” said Jeff Okrepkie, a neighborhood leader.

Okrepkie, board chairman of the Coffey Strong neighborhood rebuilding group, said of the various builders, “There’s different niches they will fill.”

October’s wildfires were the most destructive in U.S. history, with insured damages estimated $7.5 billion in Sonoma County. The fires claimed 44 lives in Northern California, including 24 in Sonoma County.

The county lost more than 5,100 homes, including nearly 3,000 in Santa Rosa, roughly 5 percent of the city’s housing stock.

Coffey Park residents have long acknowledged the need to work together to rebuild their homes, an idea that survivors from past fires recommended as a way to greatly lower construction costs.

“It’s going to take economy of scale to make this work,” said Jim Scally, a Coffey Park block captain.

Also, many neighbors have said they want to complete rebuilding their homes within two years of the fires, the time limit for receiving rental assistance from insurers.

The stories of Lane and Tuxhorn exemplify the efforts of survivors and builders to move forward after the fires.

Lane, who provides bookkeeping and controller services to local businesses, said shortly after the fires he used assessors’ records to find addresses and sent 125 letters to neighbors. He couldn’t be sure then exactly which neighbors had lost homes.

Lane heard back from 44 households, about 20 of whom expressed interest in exploring a joint rebuild. At the time, he said, he had yet to learn of the man who built his home.

Tuxhorn, meanwhile, also lost his own home in the fire outside the city limits of Santa Rosa east of Fountaingrove. As he began to discuss the future with longtime colleagues, he concluded he might as well rebuild not only his home but others, too. He decided he would focus on homes lost in two of his former Coffey Park projects.

Tuxhorn Homes is offering to take the existing plans of those burned houses and update them to modern building codes. Tuxhorn said he still needs time to calculate construction costs, and he cautions residents that the level of uncertainty surrounding the rebuild remains significant.

“If anybody tells you they know exactly how it’s going to work,” he said, “I think they’re nuts.”

While some neighbors likely will hire their own individual contractor, others are seeking to band together. Some are limiting the joint efforts to a handful of neighbors. Others may sign with a builder working with scores of property owners spread throughout the neighborhood.

“People are really looking for somebody they trust to handle this process,” said Damien Clopton, a Coffey Strong leader. Clopton and others said the neighborhood group exists partly to help property owners get the information they need so they can select the right builder for their sites.

Among the companies and plans:

APM Homes — President Aaron Matz said the Santa Rosa company is offering to rebuild burned Coffey Park homes that originally were constructed by his grandfather, Art Condiotti, a prominent builder who in his day developed more than 7,500 houses and condominiums. “We’re building back what was already there,” Matz said. “At least some of these people are going to want their original home back.”

Synergy Communities by Christopherson — Synergy of Santa Rosa is developing 30 new homes along nearby Dennis Lane and will offer the same floor plans “to those who would like to rebuild in Coffey Park,” said partner Greg Windisch. Other partners include Brian Flahavan and Andy Christopherson, the son of longtime builders Keith and Brenda Christopherson, who have a separate company rebuilding burned homes in other parts of the county.

Gallaher Homes — The company seeks to start the rebuild in February. “We are committing to completing homes in six months from construction start date and gearing up to do 200-300 homes a year,” Honey Grace Lopez, the company’s senior program director, wrote in an email. Property owners can choose from 14 new floor plans.

DeNova — The Concord company says it will seek to mimic current home footprints and square footage but also will offer property owners the chance to update their houses. “This is a great opportunity to not only rebuild their home, but add value in a more current layout and design,” Lindsay Owen, the company’s entitlement manager, wrote in an email.

Stonefield Companies — Based east of Irvine, Stonefield rebuilt over 80 homes in the upscale Scripps Ranch development after the 2003 Cedar fire around San Diego. If enough Coffey Park property owners show interest, the company is willing to work with them “to come up with a variety of floor plans unique to their neighborhood,” spokeswoman Jennifer Whitelaw wrote in an email.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit.