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Battle resumes over west Petaluma housing development


Environmental activists and a Walnut Creek-based developer are gearing up for the next step in a lengthy battle over a luxury housing development proposed on the western edge of Petaluma, with the next chapter set to unfold at a June 19 city council meeting.

At Monday’s hearing, officials will field public comments and discuss the adequacy of the draft environmental impact report, a document outlining the impacts and mitigating measures associated with the development of as many as 66 single family homes on a 58-acre parcel at Windsor and D streets.

Though it’s attracted widespread attention, the step is an incremental one — if officials Monday direct staff to create a final EIR based on public comments and city feedback, the document would still be subject to another round of approvals by the planning commission and the city council.

Site plans would also need to be approved.

The proposal by Davidon Homes has long been met with opposition from environmental groups hoping to preserve the land for park space.

Activists argue the development would congest traffic and increase the risk of landslides and pollution while jeopardizing barns on the property and harming Kelly Creek and sensitive native species, including the threatened California red-legged frog.

The project was first proposed in 2004, when the developer submitted an application for 93 homes.

After a draft EIR presented in 2013 was widely criticized, Davidon Homes submitted new plans with options for 66 or 63 homes. A revised draft EIR discussing the impacts of that proposal and alternatives with 47 homes or 28 homes was released this March.

That report was intensely scrutinized at an April planning commission meeting, though the panel ultimately voted to recommend the city council move forward with a final EIR that provides analysis of an alternative including no development south of Kelly Creek.

The Kelly Creek Protection Project has since worked with Tamara Galanter of San Francisco-based firm Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP to craft a letter slamming the draft EIR as “inadequate.”

The 78-page document submitted to the city June 12 asserts the report doesn’t meet state-mandated environmental review standards and is in violation of a recent California Supreme Court decision while the project itself is inconsistent with the city’s general plan.

The letter implores the city to consider an alternative proposal of as many as 23 homes or as few as zero.

“There needs to be a revised EIR and it needs to be recirculated for public comment,” said Greg Colvin, director of the Kelly Creek Protection Project. “The alternative that we are proposing has not been considered in the EIR and it needs to be. The law requires that all economically feasible and environmentally superior alternatives be considered.”

Steve Abbs, Davidon Homes’ vice president of land acquisition and development, said the company plans to move ahead with its current proposal.

“The application we’re moving forward with is the 66 lot and the 63 lot option,” he said. “When we get all the feedback, we’ll determine if there’s an adjustment that needs to be made.”

Colvin, a Petaluma lawyer, has also raised $4 million to purchase part of the land as an extension of the nearby Helen Putnam Regional Park.

He’s aiming to eventually raise more than $10 million, in hopes of buying the entirety of the property, though conversations about a sale are stalled as the project works its way through bureaucratic hurdles.

“We’re hoping that there will be enough clear direction from the city council to get close to a solution with Davidon,” he said. “We would rather join with them on a compromise than continue for another five to 10 years to go back and forth between what we want and what they want.”

Abbs signaled that his company is open to the idea of such a discussion as the process unfolds.

“We’d like to get through this hearing and get the draft EIR moving forward toward the final EIR, but we look forward to having that discussion with Mr. Colvin … but until there’s a written offer, we have no idea what the offer is,” he said.

Petalumans for Responsible Planning, another group long opposed to the development, has also raised more than $20,000 used in part to install signs around the city to inform residents about the project.

The group, which also hosted a series of public meetings about the development, plans to make a showing at Monday’s meeting.

“We have many, many people who feel that this land represents what they love about our community,” Communications Director Susan Jaderstrom said.

City planners assigned to the project and the city’s attorney did not return multiple requests for comment, though a staff report from Planning Manager Heather Hines released Tuesday evening counters activists’ claims about the adequacy of the report, adherence to the general plan and compliance with recent land use rulings.