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The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District announced this week that it will locate its headquarters in Petaluma — at the north end of the Redwood Business Park on Old Redwood Highway — directly across the street from the vacant former site of the Adobe lumberyard that may become the site of a future train station.

Westgate Realty agent Rick Burg, who is listing the property, said that the owners, Clover Stornetta Farms, have had several talks with SMART about possibly purchasing the 12.5-acre parcel located between the road and the rail line.

"We've spoken with SMART about the property and we know that SMART is looking for locations along the main rail line," he said. "It would be an ideal spot for a station since it's right on the line and there is an existing rail spur onto the site."

The property is located just outside city limits and is part of the high-risk flood zone. Burg said that thanks to previous efforts by Clover Stornetta, the property is already about two-thirds of the way through the city annexation process, has some water retention ponds in place and wouldn't require a lot of work to mitigate flood-water issues.

City Councilmember Mike Healy, a former SMART board member, said that the site has many flood-plain issues and that trying to develop the property could be difficult.

"It could be a major can of worms," he said.

But Burg said that he and his clients have spoken to the city multiple times about developing the property and that the city has been supportive of annexing the site, despite its flood zone status.

SMART's General Manager, Farhad Mansourian, would not comment on whether SMART is looking to place a second Petaluma train station at the Old Redwood Highway location, only saying that the board is still committed to bringing a "Northern Petaluma station" to the city once financing becomes available.

The original 2005 SMART station plan called for two stations to be built within Petaluma — the downtown station at Lakeville and East Washington Streets and a second station located on the east side of town at Corona Road and North McDowell Boulevard. But as finances deteriorated and SMART faced a $106 million budget shortfall, it announced it was delaying the Corona Road station indefinitely.

While the SMART board has publicly remained a staunch supporter of adding a second Petaluma station once funding became available, most assumed that the site of the second station would remain at the Corona Road location.

But Robert Oliker, lawyer for the Corona Road site owners Patti and Clinton Gow and Robin and Larry Drew, said in a Press Democrat interview last year that SMART has been holding his clients hostage by not committing to the Corona Road property.

The owners filed a lawsuit stating that SMART had spent eight years publicly touting the property as the site of their second Petaluma train station, which scared off potential renters and drove the property to fall into foreclosure. Oliker could not be reached for comment on the status of the lawsuit.

But now that SMART has agreed to lease the 25,000 square foot soon-to-be headquarters office space on Old Redwood Highway and been in talks with Clover Stornetta Farms about possibly purchasing their vacant property across the street, it appears that the Corona Road site is no longer being seriously considered as a station site.

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Community-based, grass roots effort

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Read all of the PD's fire coverage here

Both County Supervisor David Rabbitt and City Manager John Brown said that they hadn't heard anything about potentially moving the site of the future SMART train station away from the Corona Road property.

Burg confirmed that talks between his clients and SMART had slowed recently, partially due to the lack of funding that SMART is currently dealing with, but said he believes, especially now that SMART has headquartered directly across the street, that a station on Old Redwood Highway would make the most sense for Petaluma.

Because of the many people working in the Redwood Business Park and other shopping centers nearby, Burg sees the Old Redwood Highway site as superior to the Corona Road location. "There's more activity there than at the Corona Road site. It just makes good sense."

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

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