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With fewer large, open properties available, developers are being forced to look for smaller, infill projects.

"Petaluma has substantially matured, from a developer's perspective," said Paul Andronico, senior vice president of Basin Street Properties, the developers of downtown Petaluma's Theatre District. "As far as large tracts of undeveloped land in the growth boundary, it's limited now. You're not going to build another big shopping center."

The largest single project in the pipeline is Basin Street's Riverfront, with 273 housing units, a 120-room hotel, 60,000 square feet of office space and 30,000 square feet of retail space on an undeveloped 7.5 acres on Hopper Street along the Petaluma River.

That project is in final environmental review and has garnered little criticism except from trade unions that want the construction jobs for their members.

"We believe there are still some significant opportunities to do something for the benefit of the community, but it's within the confines of the UGB and infill," Andronico said.

Petaluma's urban growth boundary and adoption of more city-centered growth priorities has put the focus on two potential projects near downtown — the area surrounding the planned SMART train station and the fairgrounds.

The 60-acre fairgrounds on East Washington Street just off Highway 101 is leased to the Sonoma-Marin Fair district for $1 a year through 2023.

But city officials and district representatives have met several times to discuss revenue-generating ideas for the state-governed property. Ideas include a convention center or sports facility.

The plan for the area around the train station includes a walkable mix of housing, commercial and retail tenants and perhaps a public events venue, that could bring train users to downtown Petaluma.

"That's the blueprint we want in that area," Councilman Mike Harris said. "We've done a lot of the bureaucratic pieces to set up a whole discussion. Now we need to attract an investor."

A potential project at the former Haystack Marketplace area, on three acres between the river and the train depot, is moving forward, Robbe said.

No official application has been submitted, but developers have said they may include condominiums or multi-family units on the upper floors and mixed-use retail on the ground floor.

A few other "opportunity sites" have been identified for redevelopment, City Manager John Brown said.

One such site is River Plaza, formerly the Golden Eagle shopping center, near the Haystack site.

City planners expect that the center, which backs to the river's turning basin and faces a parking lot, could be reoriented to take advantage of the riverside setting and Petaluma's historic connection to the water.

Infill development on underused parcels is generally more cost-effective since most of the infrastructure is already there, Brown said. But, he cautioned, that doesn't necessarily mean smaller projects will sail smoothly through the public screening process.

"The intention is to be more efficient with the use of the land," he said. "But that represents a change in whatever neighborhood it goes into. There is still a significant amount of compromise that has to take place."

Whatever development happens in Petaluma in the next few years, water has to be a major piece of the discussion, Maguire said.

"If we have another winter or two like these last couple, we're not going to be taking baths, let alone building new projects," he said. "If that happens, the city should put a moratorium on new development until we can get a better handle on the water situation."

(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.)