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Developer seeks hearing on stalled Petaluma housing project

This rendering shows a proposed 184-unit housing development between Petaluma Boulevard North and Water Street. CITY OF PETALUMA

HANNAH BEAUSANG ,

The developer behind a long-stalled project that would bring 184 rental units to west Petaluma hopes the project could be up for a public hearing as soon as January.

Stockton-based A.G. Spanos Companies has spent nearly three years seeking community input and tailoring plans for the so-called “North River Apartments” on 3.92 acres at the intersection of Petaluma Boulevard North and Oak Street. A planning commission hearing would be the next step to advance the project, which would add a mix of studios and one- to two-bedroom apartments to the heart of the city as the post-fire housing market continues to constrict.

Developers of the project have faced significant hurdles, including complications with rail agencies’ easements that took two years and $2.4 million to resolve. The city’s fire marshal recently tacked on a requirement to develop a road to the project along Water Street to East Washington Street rather than just an access point for emergency vehicles.

The mandate further delayed the project, which was set for a September planning commission hearing, A.G. Spanos’ Executive Vice President Alexandros Economou said.

“There’s a lot to be worked out – everything from the plan line of the road to working with the neighbors for rights-of-way that all go into making this project happen,” he said.

A handful of privately and publicly owned parcels span the length of the currently undeveloped street and the property owners need to dedicate their land to that use. Those conversations with business owners are “ongoing” and a cost estimate for the road is not yet available, Economou said. The new road with bike and pedestrian improvements would knock out most of the existing parking near the bustling Brewsters Beer Garden, and the project would be required to add more than 100 parking spots, he said.

Economou is exploring ways for other companies who create future commercial or residential developments along the road to reimburse A.G. Spanos for the costs of the improvements, with possible cost breaks for projects with affordable housing units.

Plans submitted to the city also include a bike and pedestrian path, a traffic signal at the intersection of Petaluma Boulevard North and Oak Street, sustainable building elements, EV charging stations and a portfolio of tenant amenities.

Once approvals are granted, the project could be built in about two years, Economou said. The developer opted to pay a fee rather than incorporate affordable units into the market-rate complex.

“This has been a complicated project,” Economou said. “We knew that going in, and we’ve been in it to see it through to the finish. We’re excited about the fact we’re getting there. This is a really great project. Location, walkability, the infill nature of it and access to the SMART train make this an important project for us and we’re excited to see it happen.”

The project, which will also feature 268 parking spots and between 10,000 and 12,000-square feet of retail space, was the focus of a Nov. 15 forum hosted by a group of local urban planning enthusiasts hoping to encourage residents to think creatively about development in their city.

The Know Before You Grow group is fronted by Kevin McDonnell, a retired Petaluma-based civil engineer and chairman of the Recreation, Music and Parks Committee. Forums explore links between issues such as municipal finances, climate change, traffic, mobility and development.

“We’d like to move in a different direction – we’d like to ask different questions about a development that comes to town,” McDonnell said. “What is it that we need and how does it fill it? We know we need housing but we want the right housing … in the end, we want to come up something a little bit different – think differently, ask different questions for new ideas and for a better future and not just a carbon copy of the past to make the future.”

The series is under the umbrella of a larger “Urban Chat” effort spearheaded by Petaluma-based civil engineer Dave Alden. Though neither group endorses development projects, Alden said there’s still room for rethinking the North River Apartments to meet housing needs.

“They could possibly skew smaller on units and get by with less parking,” he said.

(Contact Hannah Beausang at hannah.beausang@arguscourier.com)