Scott Ranch project clears final hurdle
A roar of applause was heard at about 11:30 p.m. Monday in the Petaluma City Council chambers, after council members unanimously voted to certify the environmental impact report for the Scott Ranch development project, effectively approving a project that has stirred local controversy for two decades.
Dozens of residents showed up in support of the multilayered project, which has evolved greatly since first being proposed in 2003. Many of them called the project’s latest revision a “great compromise.”
“I have been watching this project also for the last 18, 20 years. It has come a long way,” said council member Janice Cader Thompson, who added that she preferred not to have homes in the space, but is now looking at the project with a more “realistic” approach. “I hope the community moves on and recognizes the benefits to this.”
The project involves a 58-acre property known as Scott Ranch located at D Street and Windsor Drive on Petaluma’s rural west side. The parcel was purchased by Walnut Creek-based developer Davidon Homes for nearly $8 million in 2003, and originally intended solely for housing, with 93 homes proposed.
Over time that was whittled down, and in June 2018, Davidon reached an agreement with the community-led group Kelly Creek Protection Project of Earth Island Institute, which arranged for 47 acres of the property to be purchased from Davidon for $4.1 million in order to preserve open space and extend Helen Putnam Regional Park.
Under that agreement just 28 homes would be constructed. Also, the park extension would be carried out in three phases, with the first to be completed by the Kelly Creek Protection Project before transferring ownership of the property to Sonoma County Regional Parks.
With the agreement in place, a draft environmental impact report of the project was considered by city leaders four times in 2021, and a final version was approved by the Planning Commission on Aug. 9 of last year, subject to Monday night’s City Council approval.
Planned changes to the property include fencing and enhancements to the nearby stock pond, which the California red-legged frog uses as a breeding habitat; the restoration of the iconic red barn; and the installation of an outdoor educational space.
“I’m also very concerned about the red-legged frog and I want to preserve it,” said council member John Shribbs. “Without immediate attention that needs to be given, that pond could easily erode, be destroyed and (lose) the entire population, as a possibility.”
But some locals expressed concern that, though the Kelly Creek group may have good intentions, extending trails and bringing in human activity would still disrupt the habitat.
“The project absolutely threatens remaining suitable habitat, blocking and potentially eliminating movement corridors for almost 100 species of vertebrate wildlife already imperiled by the effects of climate change,” said one commenter in a letter to city leaders posted to the city website.
“The foot traffic, noise pollution, light pollution, domestic pets, bicycles, etc. will irreversibly disturb, displace and destroy everything that is currently managing to live here.”
Others were concerned that the new housing development would be built in an area with high wildfire risk, and would increase “vehicle miles traveled” – hindering the city’s goal of becoming carbon neutral – because the property is only accessible by car.
“I am a huge fan of Helen Putnam Park. I love it, it’s one of the big reasons I love living in the area that I’m in,” one commenter said. However, they continued, “This project has unavoidable, significant impacts with respect to (vehicle miles traveled). And I have concerns about what type of precedent this may set for future development.”
According to Davidon, the 28 new homes will take the city’s carbon-neutral goals into account by building in all-electric features and an electric vehicle charger in each garage.
While council member Brian Barnacle expressed dislike toward the formation of new roads and larger, single-family luxury homes as opposed to a more diverse variety of housing types, he also said, “I do think the benefits outweigh the things I despise about it.”
Some neighbors of Scott Ranch, who came in support of the project, reflected on how their viewpoints evolved over time.
“When this development was proposed I was part of a very vocal opposition to it in its original form. The dream then was that the land would be left untouched,” said one 20-year resident of the Victoria subdivision neighborhood. “I couldn’t be more pleased with where it’s ended up.”
Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at email@example.com or 707-521-5208.