A project that began as an indoor market housed in a rail car barn has now morphed into a mixed-use development of townhomes, restaurant space and shops on the block of land between Copeland and Weller streets.

Since Gina Pittler unveiled her ?Haystack Marketplace? proposal in 1996, it has gone through numerous revisions and several designers. The old railroad barn burned down in 2001, sending Pittler back to the drawing board.

But at a meeting of Petaluma?s Site Plan and Architectural Review Committee this month, the project received a favorable review from members who said it fits with what city planners envisioned for the downtown area in the 2001 Central Petaluma Specific Plan.

?I think what has happened here is you guys have finally hit a home run,? SPARC Chairman John Mills said to Pittler and her team at the conclusion of their Jan. 8 presentation. ?This is exactly what needs to be done in the city of Petaluma right now to continue with the CPSP.?

The current proposal calls for three- and four-story townhomes on the rectangle-shaped lot, with commercial spaces interspersed among the 101 residential units.

A covered parking area in the center of the development would support a second-story terrace for residents, with a ground-level pedestrian promenade dividing the project in half and allowing views from the Petaluma River Turning Basin to the Lakeville Street railroad depot.

Some spaces would be set aside for retail and other commercial uses, while ?flex space? in some ground-floor units could be altered for housing or business use, depending on market demand, proponents said.

?I think as time has gone on, my plans have gotten better,? Pittler said. ?It has a village atmosphere in the center of the community.?

Although residential parking is provided, the project is designed for tenants who want to be close to downtown and mass transit at the bus mall and future commuter train stop nearby, designers said.

?It?s very much a walkable project because of the proximity to public transportation,? architect Wayne Miller said.

Restaurants are expected to be potential tenants at some of the main corners of the buildings, such as where the pedestrian promenade meets Weller Street across from the Turning Basin, Pittler said.

?You can see all the way to downtown and up and down the river, and over to Sonoma Mountain? from that corner, she said.

Pittler is also aiming to include green-building features in the project, such as rain-capturing systems to irrigate landscaping and solar panels to power water heaters, Miller said.

?We?re trying to be the greenest multi-family facility Petaluma has ever seen,? he said. ?We hope to be able to power most of the common areas with solar power.?

At the informal presentation, SPARC members praised the aesthetic and landscaping features of the project, including the pedestrian promenade through the center.

?The project is beautiful,? Committee member Ray Johnson said. ?I?m looking forward to the final design.?

Pittler said she has submitted a formal application to the city and expects to have at least one more informal SPARC review before the project is considered for approval.

She is hoping to partner with a developer to build the project.

?Once the market stabilizes, we?re eager to pursue a development and get it going,? she said.