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A housing development on the western outskirts of town that was first proposed eight years ago but was delayed during the recession is moving forward again with the recent release of the draft Environmental Impact Report.

The move is drawing renewed scrutiny from a neighborhood group that is raising concerns over the environmental impacts to the land and the number of homes planned for the project.

The site in question is 58 acres of former ranchland, once known as Scott Ranch, near Helen Putnam Park at D Street and Windsor Drive.

The housing developer, Davidon Homes of Walnut Creek, first proposed the project in 2004 as a 93-home development. At the time, a group called Petalumans for Responsible Planning (PetRP), sprang up, citing concerns over the environmental impact to the land, impacts on nearby homes, the preservation of historic red barns on the site, and the density of homes proposed.

They also advocated that the "maximum acreage" possible on the site be devoted to open space rather than housing development, specifically asking that some or all of the land be dedicated to expanding the adjacent Helen Putnam Regional Park.

The project has not progressed over the last several years, which Davidon's Vice President of Land Acquisition Jeff Thayer attributed in a previous interview to a combination of factors, including waiting for the city to complete its long term water plan and the recession. But, he said, the project is now "back on track."

The EIR, released on Feb. 14, outlines the originally proposed, 93-home version of the project, which would include about 20 acres of private open space and a park, as well as a trail running along Kelly Creek and leading to Helen Putnam Regional Park. Lot sizes would range from .3 to 1.1 acres. The draft EIR also lays out four alternative projects — one with 66 homes, one with 47, one with 28 and another with no building at all.

When asked how seriously the company was considering any of those alternatives, Thayer said the 66-home alternative was one that his company believes "would achieve positive objectives" and could support.

He added that, since the project was last on the table, his company has met with agencies like the Department of Fish and Game and local neighborhood groups to determine what would be acceptable at the site, especially given the need to preserve habitat for the endangered red-legged frog. The 66-home alternative seems to work well when taking the biological restrictions into consideration, he said.

But Greg Colvin of PetRP says that an even lower-density project than the 66-homes option may be needed. He cited a survey that PetRP conducted in the fall, where 48 percent of 186 respondents indicated that they would want to see no more than 41 homes on the property. Another 47 percent didn't want to see any homes on the site.

"It's a critical piece of Petaluma's agricultural history," he said. "If it's developed, it's gone forever."

Colvin and other PetRP members are perhaps most concerned that the EIR uses the city's old, 1987 General Plan as a guideline, rather than the current General Plan, which was adopted in 2008.

PetRP voiced its concerns about the property as the city's current General Plan was being developed, and numerous requirements for the site were ultimately incorporated in the plan, including requirements that the red barns be preserved at their current location, that an urban separator be provided, and that there be a minimum of three acres of parkland dedicated.

The developer contends that the city deemed the project application complete in 2004, when the old general plan was still in place, and should be judged against it for that reason.

Thayer said he believes the lower density, 66-home alternative complies with most of the current general plan provisions, save for one requirement that the red barn not be moved. Under the 66-home alternative, the red barn would be moved across the creek, closer to the proposed trailhead, according to Thayer, who added that the project was one that he thought Petaluma could be proud of.

But PetRP wants to see the red barn kept in its current location; Colvin pointed out that the barn could lose much of its historic value if it is moved.

"We feel that if Davidon is willing to limit its homes to a number no higher than 41 and keep the red barn where it is and keep the (proposed) trailhead, maybe there's a compromise in the works," Colvin said.

At the request of PetRP, Davidon Homes agreed to extend the public review period for the draft EIR from 45 to 60 days.

(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@ar guscourier.com)