The first phase of a proposed $23 million city park on East Washington Street that was first approved in 2007 is finally moving forward, promising to bring needed playing fields to town within the next few years.

Known in the city as a "legacy project" because of the lengthy time it has spent in limbo, East Washington Park was originally proposed by a private developer more than a decade ago. But after the developer's financing fell through and hopes of a public-private partnership faded, the city came up with an elaborate master plan of its own for the 25-acre parcel just east of the airport.

The City Council approved plans for the park in 2007, which included three synthetic turf fields, two full-sized baseball fields, one softball field, two basketball courts, a dirt BMX bicycle park and a pedestrian and bike path. The plans dazzled many with features like lighting, playgrounds, shaded picnic areas, two restrooms, a concession building and parking for about 300 vehicles. But funding proved challenging. Even after breaking the park's construction into two phases in 2010, with the first phase estimated to cost approximately $11 million, the city still struggled to get financing during the recession.

In the November election, a citizen group called Petaluma Friends of Recreation placed a parcel tax on the ballot called Measure X, meant to fund park projects and maintenance throughout Petaluma. East Washington Park was one of the main projects to be funded, and would have received about $6.1 million if the measure had passed. The measure failed, but Petaluma Friends of Recreation Co-Chair Carol Eber said she is pleased that the city is making parks a priority.

"Measure X still got 63 percent of Petaluma's votes," said Eber. "It was the people telling the council that this is an important issue."

The project is now moving forward because of two main factors — a $2 million grant from the county that is set to expire at the end of 2016 and an influx of more than $3 million in developer impact fees coming mostly from the new Target shopping center.

Faced with the expiration of the $2 million grant but not nearly enough funds for the $11 million first phase of the project, staff downsized the first phase to a more manageable $6.7 million. The downsized version will include two to three artificial turf fields, field lighting, irrigation, paved parking, seating areas, fencing and East Washington Street frontage improvements.

About $1 million still needs to be raised for the first phase, which staff says will come from donations, usage fees, naming rights or any other donation methods the city is able to drum up.

"Every option would be open to discussion in order to get this project underway," said Assistant City Manager Scott Brodhun. "One of our greatest unmet recreation needs is field space and this project speaks to that need."

Brodhun said that East Washington Park is finally able to move forward in part because of newly acquired impact fees from major developments like the Target shopping center opening this year. These developer impact fees are designed to directly offset the demands that new developments place on the community and can only be used for new park and recreation development — not on existing maintenance costs. Brodhun added that the project must be underway and a request for reimbursement submitted before Dec. 6, 2016 for the city to use the $2 million in county open space grant funding.

While most of the City Council supported the new project moving forward Monday night, Councilmember Teresa Barrett expressed concern over the lack of public outreach that took place when the first phase of the project was downsized.

"I'm not opposed to the changes, but there was no public hearing and no input by the Parks and Recreation Committee," said Barrett, who is council liaison to that committee. "It's staff's role to bring this to us in a timely manner so we don't have this kind of slippage."

Councilmember Chris Albertson said that he too would like to have seen the proposal go before the Parks and Recreation Committee before the council voted on the matter, but did not want to hold up the project any longer. The council voted 6-1 to approve the proposal, with Barrett the lone dissenter.

City staff anticipates that planning for phase one will be completed this year, with construction to begin in the spring of 2014.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)