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Housing project proposed for Petaluma Blvd. South

While many things are forced into a standstill by the coronavirus pandemic, wheels are still turning among various housing development projects throughout Petaluma.

San Diego-based developer Vesta Pacific Development is moving forward with its proposal to build 79 homes along Petaluma Boulevard South and McNear Avenue. The 4-acre parcel is situated next to the Petaluma Veterans Building and kitty-corner to Heritage Salvage across the street.

Vesta Pacific Development Oct. 22 hosted the first of what its representatives promise will be a series of public outreach sessions, meant to gather community input for the housing project along one of the city’s main thoroughfares.

Urban Chat, a Petaluma-based growth and development advocacy and education group, invited the developer to its now-virtual “Know Before You Grow” forum, which often acts as a platform for residents to directly engage with various development and infrastructure projects.

“One of the things we believe very strongly in is community outreach, and we plan to return to Know Before You Grow several times in the future as we continue in the process,” said Entitlement Manager Scot Hunter. “We will also talk with other groups, and host a series of community meetings so we can make sure we’re really meeting the needs of the community.”

The project, named Vartnaw Landing, is to be the company’s second foray into Northern California, following its Napa Register Square mixed housing and commercial project in the city’s downtown.

Current plans call for 38 stacked flats, 25 townhomes, one duplex, one triplex and 11 single-family units with four accessory dwelling units, also known as granny units or ADU’s.

Sizes range from 749 square feet in the smallest townhome configurations, and increase to 2,040 square feet in some of the single-family units. All have at least two bedrooms and one bath, with a majority offering an average of three bedrooms and three bathrooms per unit.

In last week’s presentation, Hunter said 29 units will be deed-restricted affordable while 58% of the development will be at or below $500,000 in today’s pricing.

Hunter highlighted the project’s density, roughly 19.3 units per acre, which has become a leading talking point for many state and local development and sustainability activists in recent years. For Petaluma specifically, which is crushed under a growing housing crisis and hemmed in by a boundary preventing further growth outside city limits, many activists and city officials point to high-density infill projects as a possible fix.

Hunter said his team watched the contentious Corona Station housing development carefully, which drew significant public criticism last year over a number of points, including its density level.

“My understanding is that the lack of density was one of the biggest problems at Corona, so with our project we think we’re delivering that,” Hunter said.

However, as is the case for many residential and commercial projects in Petaluma, concerns over parking and traffic rose to the fore during the approximately 40-minute virtual forum.

A single public commenter expressed worry over the amount of cars the project will bring to his nearby neighborhood and two streets that backend the property. One, Lena Lane, is to be extended to meet Petaluma Boulevard South to supply emergency exit access.

“I played on this land as a child, so I have a lot of history here,” said Petaluma resident Floyd Ross. “The streets just aren’t wide enough on Lena Lane and Nadine Lane, I think that needs to be re-thought, personally.”

Initial plans presented last week outline more than 170 parking spots – 139 in garages and 34 guest parking areas.

According to Hunter, the Vartnaw Landing project will be the first to undergo the city’s new metric calculating “vehicle miles traveled” statutes.

This new calculation analyzes how a project changes trip lengths, instead of how traffic changes road congestion. As a result, Vesta Pacific is also planning to do a focused environmental study of the project related to traffic and vehicle miles traveled.

“We’re really a test case for this, which is really an environmental statute, which is meant to promote walkability, increase density and reduce traffic,” Hunter said.

The proposed timeline for the project, including the environmental review study, puts potential construction about a year out. Meanwhile, Hunter said he will continue to implement outreach sessions for the community.

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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