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Petaluma’s McNear peninsula for sale

A prime piece of waterfront property in the heart of Petaluma is for sale - for a hefty price.

A swath of the historic McNear Peninsula, an undeveloped space that’s long been envisioned by the city as a public park, has hit the market for $3 million - a price tag that’s left some local agencies interested in acquiring the land for conservation or river access with a dose of sticker shock.

The McNears, an early Petaluma family that’s credited with developing the city, have owned the property for more than a century. The 20.75 acres comprises the middle portion of a peninsula that’s long been lauded as a jewel in the city’s crown and has been designated as a public park space in Petaluma’s General Plan since 1961, according to Senior Planner Scott Duiven.

While the acreage might seem tantalizing for developers hoping to snap up riverfront property, it’s governed by strict zoning and land use regulations that all but solidify its future use as a public park or open space. The piece of land on the 32-acre peninsula is also situated between two other parcels, one owned by the city and the other by Basin Street Properties, with lingering questions about access.

The city-owned 10 acres at the base of the peninsula, home to Steamer Landing Park and Rivertown Revival, is permanently protected by a conservation easement held by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District that grants access to the parcel, though specific allowable uses aren’t clearly defined, Acquisition Program Manager Misti Arias said.

Since the July 26 listing, real estate agent Timo Rivetti said he’s been contacted by at least five developers with hopes for mixed-use projects, and has been in conversation with parties interested in conserving the land. He said he’s advising developers of limitations, but said the land would be a “gold mine” that he said could sell for $10 million if it had development potential.

“If it were developable, it would be sold tomorrow with a cash deal, done,” agent Rivetti said.

Issues with access and zoning have stymied the final sale of the parcel when it’s been in escrow at least twice before with a higher price tag, according to Debbie McNear Seigworth, a member of the McNear family, who said the city’s general plan designation also interrupted the family’s original vision to install a brick factory on the property.

Now, as the family is seeking to liquidate assets as family members age, they hope the land can be acquired for a park, she said. The city has at least twice before been in talks with the family about a potential purchase of the property, though a deal was never reached, according to Duiven.

“It doesn’t serve us well,” she said. “We’re not deriving any benefits off the property … If it sells, great. If it doesn’t, we’ll keep paying property taxes on it.”

The listing comes at a time when advocates are touting efforts to increase river access, with a recently-publicized update to Petaluma Water Ways, a vision of waterfront development including campgrounds, small watercraft access points, parks and more.

Though the peninsula is identified as a component in the Water Ways plan, as well as the 1996 River Access and Enhancement Plan, Mayor David Glass was quick to say that the price is “flabbergasting,” and any possibility of acquisition of the land for a park project with the existing price tag was “dead on arrival.”

Though the property could be eligible for a matching grant from the county’s open space district, Glass said even half the price would still be too steep. He said the city’s focus should remain on wrapping up the $23 million East Washington sports fields project, a complex he said the community has long desired.

“Would I be a vote for that kind of expenditure when the resources are so scarce? No. I’m focused like a laser beam on getting what the community wants,” he said, adding that it’s not likely the city would accommodate another arrangement, such as developer purchase of the land in lieu of impact fees. “Get that done and then eye something else.”

Stephanie Bastianon, executive director of Friends of the Petaluma River, a nonprofit that’s maintained and operated Steamer Landing Park since 2009, said the land would be an “amazing asset,” but said that the “hefty” price tag might make fundraising efforts among river nonprofits tricky.

“It’s been something that we wanted to see happen and the city wants to see this happen, but we have to figure out a way to come together and raise those funds, so it’s a little unpredictable as to when that would come together,” she said.

Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, who’s the director of the open space district, said the district is also interested in the property.

“It’s a very unique piece of land - there’s no other place like it. It’s an ideal park location and ideal for the matching grant program,” he said. “I think we need to make sure we work together and make that a success.”

Matching grant or awards from other agencies may limit the purchase to the appraised fair market value of the property, which real estate agent Rivetti said is “awkward” to nail down, because of the unique limitations and location. Appraised values derived from past negations with the city weren’t made available, though staff indicated there had been historical disparities between the asking price and the appraised value of the parcel.

“It’s hard to put a value on it, it’s obviously worth something,” Rivetti said. “And $3 million is a good starting point.”

He said he’s willing to explore options for the future of the property with interested parties, with the end goal of getting a park on the peninsula.

“Let’s bring people to the table,” he said. “We won’t preclude anything, let’s get serious people at the table – the sellers want to sell.”

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

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