Funds secured for Helen Putnam Park extension
The Kelly Creek Protection Project this week announced it successfully raised the necessary funds to purchase 44 acres of coveted land in west Petaluma, signaling what could be the first major breakthrough in resolving a contentious land use battle that’s waged for 14 years.
The local nonprofit hit the $4.1 million goal outlined in an agreement reached in June with property owner Davidon Homes, a developer based in Walnut Creek. The two sides set Sept. 1 as the deadline to secure the most environmentally sensitive portion of the 58-acre property, which is located at the intersection of Windsor Drive and D Street, and encompasses the iconic Scott Ranch.
In exchange, KCPP will now support Davidon’s bid to construct 28 homes on the remaining 14 acres, pending successful passage of its site plans and environmental impact review by city officials. Although, if KCPP can raise an additional $6.9 million by Dec. 1, the developer will sell the entire property without building a single residence.
“It’s the realization of a long-term goal for almost 15 years since the property was first purchased for development,” KCPP director Greg Colvin said Tuesday.
The nonprofit initially raised $3 million for an extension of Helen Putnam Regional Park through its sponsorship from the Earth Island Institute, a group that backs environmental activism with fiscal support and organizational infrastructure.
To close the remaining $1.1 million gap for the first deadline, Colvin said the group received “a lot of individual donations,” as a well as a bridge loan from a single donor while KCPP awaits a decision later this fall on a $1 million matching grant program from the Sonoma County Ag and Open Space District.
If the grant money does not come through, KCPP will “see what kind of terms we can work out in the long run” with the source of the bridge loan, Colvin said.
The movement to purchase the land came after numerous clashes between environmental activists and Davidon Homes since the project was first proposed in 2004. Opponents have cited the potential harm to Kelly Creek and the natural habitat of the threatened California red-legged frog, as well as traffic increases on the two-lane thoroughfares and the risk of landslides.
Davidon Homes initially submitted an application for 93 homes, but the accompanying draft EIR in 2013 was widely criticized. The developer elected to scale back, providing options for 66 or 63 homes.
In March 2017, the revised environmental report discussed the impacts of that proposal, in addition to alternatives with 47 or 28 homes. A month later, the planning commission pushed the project forward for the city council to review a final EIR that also explored the possibility of no development south of Kelly Creek.
On June 19, 2017, the council deemed the subsequent report was inadequate with a unanimous vote that ultimately triggered recirculation, subjecting the project to another round of public hearings.
KCPP and Petalumans for Responsible Planning, or PetRP, the two organizations leading the fight, celebrated that decision as a victory. They used the ruling as leverage to compel the developer to negotiate a deal that would help secure part of the land to extend Helen Putnam Park and significantly reduce Davidon’s proposal, Colvin said.
However, during the negotiation process, PetRP walked away from the table, steering committee member Sue Davy said. The organization didn’t want to accept a deal that required them to support development and shirked their commitment to retaining the land as an open space.
“It was clear that we couldn’t turn our backs on the folks that supported us, who were really invested in the fight for zero homes,” Davy said.
KCPP and Davidon continued the negotiations, and eventually arrived at the agreement announced earlier this year, with two fundraising deadlines for potentially purchasing the land.
Since the terms became public, PetRP has openly criticized the deal, and remains firm in its commitment to zero development.
“It’s great to know that (KCPP) reached their goal. That’s fantastic,” Davy said. “But part of that deal, in securing that land for the park, is they agreed to the building of 28 homes. PetRP’s goal was to do everything we can to keep all of the land as open space, which means zero homes. As much as this was a win and a move in the right direction, it does lock in an agreement between Kelly Creek and the developer to build 28 homes.”
For Colvin, a Petaluma-based lawyer, he felt a deal was necessary so open space advocates could secure as much as land as possible.
“We’ve always wanted the same thing, which is to have this land not be overdeveloped, but be used to the full extent possible,” Colvin said of the split with PetRP. “I think there may be some philosophical differences on how to get there. I don’t think you can continue to hammer on the city council to approve no houses to be built when the land is zoned for very light residential. At some point the property interests of the land owners have to be respected.”
As Davidon continues to form its next application, information has been revealed that indicates the developer is creating a less ambitious project. The luxury homes first put forward have been scaled down to “mid-range” homes, said Davidon vice president of land acquisition and development Steve Abbs.
They will be predominantly single-story and range from 2,678 to 3,523 square feet. Abbs did not have cost estimates for the homes immediately available.
“It’s an all-around better design that we’ve negotiated with KCPP,” he said. “We’ve heard the public’s comments and decision-makers’ comments in the public hearings, and we wanted to put our best foot forward and provide a project that would be a great addition for the city of Petaluma.”
Davy said PetRP is open to assisting KCPP in its pursuit of a complete buyout, but wants to see Davidon’s next proposal first, and get a better understanding of how the money will be used if the nonprofit falls short of its $11 million goal.
“If the goal is to purchase the entire property, we’re definitely interested in having a discussion,” Davy said. “If the goal is to stop our road to zero by happily accepting 28 homes on that property, that’s not something we’re interested in.”
(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at firstname.lastname@example.org or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)