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Hope remains for SMART's second Petaluma station

Published: Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 3:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 3, 2014 at 3:05 p.m.

One city council member is hopeful Petaluma will get an east-side Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) station after discovering a forgotten piece of city-owned land on Corona Road.

Plans for the east-side train station, which was originally proposed by the City of Petaluma at the corner of Corona Road and North McDowell Boulevard, were postponed by SMART because it does not currently have the funds to build the second Petaluma station. As it stands now, SMART commuters would be forced to use the downtown depot station, which will not have parking for patrons.

“We certainly need a second station in town,” said Scott Duiven, the city’s senior SMART planner. “The benefit of the (east-side) location is that it’s an easy bike ride or even walk from the junior college. There’s so much residential (housing) there that’s connected already via bike paths along the creeks, so that would be very convenient.”

City Councilmember Mike Healy thinks there may be an ace in the hole for the second station — an acre-plot of land that few knew the city owned, located directly next to the Corona Road site that was originally proposed for an east-side station.

Healy said he was speaking with the real estate agent who mentioned that the city owned the adjacent acreage ­­— a small triangular plot between the train tracks and the creek. Healy called former City Manager John Scharer, who retired in the 1990s, to see if he knew about the city’s acquisition of the land.

Scharer confirmed that the land was purchased about 20 years ago, when the city widened North McDowell Boulevard. The two-lane road’s upgrade to four lanes involved the purchase of much of the surrounding property, including two parcels that make up the triangular 1.1-acre plot in question.

Current City Manager John Brown said while he was unaware that the city owned that sliver of property, it does appears on a list of city-owned properties. Brown said the parcel was never considered in the past because the privately owned land that was initially proposed was big enough.

“The larger parcel has been the focus, because that’s the one that offers the opportunity for the space that’s necessary to put a useful station in,” Brown said, explaining that it has room for the station and parking. “That station is viewed as the one people will drive to, park at and ride from.”

While small in size, Healy said the city-owned land could potentially lead to a redesigned Corona Road site, an idea that still needs to be fleshed out by the city and SMART.

“We’re just trying to see if this can be part of the mix towards getting an east-side SMART station for town,” Healy said. “It’s a real goal for the entire council to get that second SMART station in Petaluma.”

Speaking conjecturally, Brown agreed that there could be a use for the land if SMART officials decided not to use the originally proposed site, and there was a need for “some sort of city trade or buy in” to make the site financially feasible.

Sonoma County Supervisor and SMART boardmember David Rabbitt said it’s a possibility that SMART could choose a different location over the Corona Road site, partly due to past issues with the land. Last year, SMART cited a lack of funds to purchase the land and deferred construction indefinitely. In addition, the initial environmental analysis of the site identified ground contamination, which also stalled progress. Rabbitt said a further analysis of the contamination is needed to determine the extent of the pollution and what it would take to clean it up.

“SMART is not in the business of buying something that isn’t cleared, or something that has an open ended dollar amount to clear it,” Rabbitt said. “That wouldn’t be a good use of taxpayer money.”

In addition to the issue of contamination, Rabbitt said SMART can’t build a second station until more funds become available. SMART has been looking at any and all options for the second station, which Rabbitt said are pretty limited in the northeast part of town. SMART officials will be meeting next week to explore other options for the second station.

“We continuing to look for all opportunities,” Rabbitt said. “Right now, (the second station) is not in the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean we’re not willing to work with all property owners within that area to find a suitable place to have that second station.”

SMART spokesman Matt Stevens declined to comment on the second Petaluma station.

While SMART explores its options, the City of Petaluma has begun a real estate appraisal to determine the value of its own parcel. Brown said if a deal needs to be made in order to make a second station feasible at the Corona Road location, the appraisal is a good first step in understanding the value of what the city has to offer.

“If the city parcels need to become part of this solution to get that station out there, I’m certainly working toward that,” Brown said.

Healy said the initial environmental analysis of the city-owned acre would likely begin within the next month.

If and when a second SMART station site it identified, the area around that station can be designated as a priority development area, defined as an area near existing or planned transit where additional housing is planned. This high-density status would make the project eligible for regional transportation funding. Rabbitt said if the city can then encourage private developers to come in and develop the area around the station, that could make the location financially feasible.

“While SMART’s official position is that they don’t have a plan right now because they don’t have the money and can’t make the commitment, as an individual director of SMART and a county supervisor, it’s very important to me that we get that station going,” Rabbitt said.

(Contact Allison Jarrell at allison.jarrell@argus courier.com)

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