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Westside housing project gets more scrutiny

A housing development on the western outskirts of town that was proposed eight years ago but was delayed during the recession is garnering attention again as the city comes close to completing the first draft environmental impact report for the project.

The housing developer, Davidon Homes of Walnut Creek, first proposed the project in 2004 as a 93-home development on 58 acres near Helen Putnam Park at D Street and Windsor Drive, on land known as the former Scott Ranch.

The project has not progressed over the last several years, which Davidon's Vice President of Land Acquisition Jeff Thayer attributed to a combination of factors, including waiting for the city to complete its long term water plan as part of the General Plan 2025, and the recession. But, he said, the project is now "back on track."

According to Petaluma Deputy Planning Manager Heather Hines, the city plans to release the draft environmental impact report for the project before the end of the year, which will include the originally proposed version of the project as well as alternatives, including reducing the number of homes in the development.

When the project was first proposed, 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 nearby Helen Putnam Regional Park.

In 2006, PetRP joined with the environmental group the Bay Institute to attempt to purchase the site and make it an open space extension of Helen Putnam Regional Park, with an anonymous donor contributing $1 million to the cause. The money is being held by the Bay Institute and must be returned to the anonymous donor if it is not used to purchase some or all of the land within ten years of when it was given.

Davidon, though, does not appear to be interested in selling the land.

PetRP voiced its concerns about the property as the city's 2025 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, that an urban separator be provided, and that there be a minimum of three acres of parkland dedicated.

Thayer said that 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. "We're trying to be responsive," he said.


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