East-side SMART train station site still in doubt

Will there be a second SMART station in Petaluma, and if so, where will it be? These are questions Petaluma officials are asking after a property long slated to become the city's east-side train station was foreclosed on last month and SMART still refuses to purchase the property.

One station is already planned to be built during the first phase of SMART construction in western Petaluma, near the old depot buildings on Washington and Copeland streets. For more than seven years, a piece of property at Corona Road and North McDowell Boulevard was promoted as the site of a second, north Petaluma station, to be built during a second phase of construction. But last month, after getting no commitment from SMART and not being able to sell the land to other interested buyers, the two couples who owned it were foreclosed on.

The lenders who took possession of the property say they won't wait around for the same fate to happen to them.

"We're going to aggressively market this property at fair market value and if SMART wants it, they need to stand up and purchase it," said Jeff Mayne, president of Sonoma Equity Lending, which took over the property. "We're demanding that SMART say whether they're in or out."

Since at least 2005, SMART has promised Petaluma a second, east side train station, though no time frame has been assigned to its construction due to financial constraints and uncertainty. Despite SMART not having signed a binding agreement, Petaluma's General Plan calls for that location to be used for a train station, severely limiting the owner's ability to sell.

Despite pleas from the former owners, SMART declined to purchase the land. It also refused to come out and say it no longer wanted the property as its potential train station site. Lawyers for the owners argued that SMART was holding them hostage by not purchasing the land.

Because SMART had never formally agreed to purchase the land, former SMART board chair and Sonoma County Supervisor Valerie Brown argued in August of 2011 that the agency had not caused the couples' financial difficulties, and said that while SMART intended to place the second train station at that location, it could not purchase the property at that time.

Then, in June, SMART relocated its headquarters to the north end of the Redwood Business Park on Old Redwood Highway — directly across the street from a vacant lot that used to be the Adobe lumberyard. At the time, Rick Burg — the realtor listing the vacant site — told the Argus-Courier that owner Clover Stornetta Farms had been in talks with SMART about possibly purchasing the 12.5 acre parcel as a site for a second train station.

At the time, SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian would not comment on whether the agency was looking to place the second Petaluma train station at the old lumberyard property. He would also not say whether he had plans to move forward with the Corona Road station. He said only that the board was still committed to bringing a "Northern Petaluma station" to the city once financing became available.

Meanwhile, the owners of the Corona Road property fell further behind on payments of their 6.5-acre parcel, eventually losing it to their lenders. According to Mayne, after Sonoma Equity Lending took over the site, it approached SMART and offered the agency several options to secure the property, including what Mayne described as a "far-below market purchase price," or a lease-to-own option that wouldn't require SMART to come up with a large amount of money upfront.

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