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Residents laud Arroyo Park area despite recent growth boom

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(Editor?s note: This is one in a series of monthly stories taking a close-up look at neighborhoods in Petaluma.)

When Mary Ann Kendall moved to Wren Drive 15 years ago, her closest neighbors loved to simply hang out all day and occasionally make loud noises in a field that was separated from her home by a fence.

She enjoyed these cows and the open field, but eventually they were replaced by people and houses, reflecting the loss of much of the Arroyo Park/Village East neighborhood?s rural spaciousness. Kendall and many other residents aren?t crazy about this change, but they laud the unspoiled nature of the remaining open space around them as well as many of the neighborhood?s other qualities, such as its cohesiveness, clean and attractive appearance, peacefulness, relative safety and convenient location.

?All of the construction has changed the neighborhood quite a bit, but I always have felt safe and have a lot of friends here,? said Kendall, who moved six years ago to Marylyn Circle, partly because of the relatively high test scores recorded by nearby schools. ?Many of us raised our children together, and had fun doing things like taking them out together on Halloween.?

The Fourth of July also was a special time.

?My husband, David, always had the biggest, baddest fireworks when the kids were growing up,? said Jeannine Van Etten, who has lived on Village East Court since 1992. ?It wasn?t the Fourth of July until he lit the first fireworks.?

?But the neighborhood changed after the children grew up,? Kendall added. ?It now is more transient, and we have a lot of different age groups. It also has become more ethnically diverse, which is a positive thing.?

The population of the neighborhood has jumped from 561 in 1990 to 947 in 2006, and is projected to hit 1,049 by 2011. During this time, the number of housing units has risen from 208 to 317, and is forecast to reach 433 by 2011.

The median age has risen from 33.3 in 1990 to 40.5 in 2006. The percentage of people over 44 years old has jumped from 12.8 percent to 41.5 percent during this time, and the median household income has risen from $53,780 to $96,895. And the portion of Hispanics is expected to increase from 10.7 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2011.

Pauline Schneider, who, like Kendall, moved to the neighborhood because the housing was affordable, feels that generally it now consists of two groups ? older residents, many of whom live in the Shelter Hills subdivision of townhouses on Marylyn Circle where she resides, and younger families living in the Village East subdivision south of Arroyo Park, among other places.

?Shelter Hills isn?t a seniors-only complex, but there aren?t many kids and families here. Most of the people living on Village East Drive and other nearby streets are younger folks,? Schneider said, adding that she feels her immediate neighbors are cohesive, but not necessarily intimately connected with the rest of the neighborhood.

Stevan and Stephanie Fontana also moved to the neighborhood because of its comparative affordability.

?We wanted to buy something, and Marin was a little bit more expensive,? said Stevan, who has lived on Marylyn Circle for two years. ?We grew up in Marin and wanted to stay as close as possible. Petaluma still feels like an extension of Marin.?

He particularly enjoys the neighborhood?s congenial atmosphere.

?We are very friendly with our neighbors,? said Fontana, a general contractor and an avid fisherman. ?That?s one of the reasons we like it here. I really feel that it?s an old-school town neighborhood. It?s very quiet, and the weekends are very relaxed. Kids play in the park, and people walk their dogs.

?And when I?m outside cleaning the boat and the fish, people come over asking what I caught and where I went fishing.?

Van Etten says the neighborhood, in general, has maintained a friendly, caring spirit through the years. A couple of years ago, a house across the street from them caught on fire during the day, when the family was away.

?Neighbors called, and saved the house. We?re a tight little community, and I love the fact that my neighbors are all very close,? she said.

A frequent gathering spot is the Van Etten garage, where David is restoring a 1969 Ford Mustang.

?You can call our garage the corner store,? Jeannine said. ?Even the neighborhood dogs come by to see us.?

Kendall feels that the entire neighborhood recently has become more cohesive as many families have banded together to voice their opposition to intensive development there.

?Neighbors have been getting together to discuss this, and it?s been a good process,? she said.

Susan Kirton, who lives on Marylyn Circle, is very concerned that condominiums may be built adjacent to Arroyo Park, near her home.

?We live in a quiet, clean, crime-free neighborhood,? said Kirton, who has two teenage children. ?I now can look over my back fence and see doves, hummingbirds and so much other wildlife. We kind of live in a bubble, and I?m afraid that will change.

?If condos are built, I?m packing up and moving. They would be six feet from my backyard.?

She opposes creating a more active park, too.

?This would be better (than condos), but if the peaceful area is taken away, I?m moving,? Kirton said.

Without question, the neighborhood has built up and continues to experience growing pains. But on a warm spring afternoon, with open fields and green, rolling hills to the east, and Arroyo Park, Weisman Airport Park, Rooster Run Golf Club, Adobe Creek Golf & Country Club and the large Casa Grande High School campus nearby, it?s easy to see why many residents remain happy.

?It?s a nice neighborhood,? said John Christensen, who has lived with his wife and three children on Rosemary Court since 1997. ?It looks good, the houses are well built, and having Arroyo Park and Wiseman Park nearby is a plus. I like to walk on the Wiseman Park trail.?

?I still consider the area very nice and the majority of residents take pride in the appearance of their yards,? said Mike Jensen, a former employee of San Quentin Prison?s Department of Corrections, who purchased a home in the neighborhood in 1995. ?We are very lucky here on Marylyn Circle to have a homeowners association that limits cars and boats being parked in driveways.?

One of the neighborhood?s most active seniors also likes the recreational opportunities.

?I love it,? said June Larson, 84, a resident of Marylyn Circle for the past 25 years. ?I live, eat and drink golf, and live within a mile of two courses. And I figure when I get too old to drive, I can walk to the courses.

?I?m not going anywhere. I wouldn?t change my lifestyle for anything.?

(Dane Golden, John Jackson and Corey Young contributed to this article. Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)