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Commentary: Scott Ranch a winning project for Petaluma

The 58-acre Scott Ranch sits at the edge of Petaluma, adjacent to Sonoma County’s Helen Putnam Regional Park. This beautiful property and the iconic red barns are the last things you see when you leave Petaluma on D Street and the first thing you see when you come “home.” It is quite simply, Petaluma. The land was a working dairy ranch until about 20 years ago, when private developer Davidon Homes bought it. Davidon likely saw tremendous potential in the land, which had been designated to allow up to 110 homes at the time of purchase.

The developer learned some residents were not going to welcome the conversion of this beautiful open space into 110 homes without careful scrutiny. The property provides valuable habitat for a variety of native California plants and animals, including protected species such as the federally threatened California red-legged frog.

Many in the community, including us, opposed Davidon’s first two proposals: one that included 93 homes and another for 66 homes. Committed to finding a win-win solution, Davidon partnered with Earth Island Institute’s Kelly Creek Protection Project (KCPP) to find a compromise for the future of this land. KCPP, an organization made up of and funded by longtime Petaluma residents, agreed to buy down a number of homes slated for development, and Davidon agreed to build only the minimum number allowed in the General Plan (28 single-family homes). KCPP committed to transform most of the property, including protected habitat and the red barns, into an extension of Putnam Park. KCPP has raised $4.1 million to buy its portion of the land. Petaluma would not have this opportunity were it not for the funds KCPP brought to the table.

The agreement with Davidon and KCPP originally called for 75% of Scott Ranch to become permanent public open space, including 44 acres to be added to Helen Putnam Regional Park, while Davidon’s proposed 28 lot housing development was limited to only 9.5 acres. In response to community comments on the draft environmental analysis reviewed by the city last year, Davidon further reduced the lot and home sizes, clustering them further away from Kelly Creek on only 6.4 acres. The final proposed project permanently protects 89% of the property, with 47 acres to be donated to Sonoma County Regional Parks and connected to the County-owned Helen Putnam Park at no cost to the City of Petaluma and with Davidon protecting another 5 acres as private open space in its residential plan.

KCPP has committed to significantly improving the parkland area before transferring it to Sonoma County Regional Parks, at no cost to the Regional Parks. The stock pond, which provides breeding habitat for red-legged frogs, will be enhanced to better protect the frogs; the riparian corridor will be improved to feature a variety of plant types to better support the wildlife and improve water quality; and a gully that degrades the creek’s water quality and undermines the stock pond will be repaired. These valuable resources will be permanently monitored and protected through a conservation easement. All these enhancements preserve the legacy of this special land.

As former members of Petaluma’s Planning Commission, we have rarely observed a project that better represents a commitment to meeting our community’s needs and values. As with any project in a beautiful area, some would rather have no development. However, that is not reality. If a development is within City limits and allowed by the General Plan, Planning Commissioners are charged with getting the best project possible. We cannot stop development, but we can strive to ensure the development protects the land and habitat and has the least impact upon them. This project has accomplished all of that.

When the City Council approves the project, Petalumans can rest easy knowing this special property would face no further threat of development and can forever be enjoyed by the public. It would also make Putnam Park considerably more accessible to residents who live throughout our city, as a new park entrance on D Street would be walkable and bikeable from downtown. Adding new parkland into the City benefits our community’s diverse population. As this pandemic has shown, parks and outdoors spaces have kept people sane and more and more of us are recognizing the healing effects of a walk in a park.

We encourage Petaluma residents to ask themselves what project would be better on this land. A compromise of this scale is hard to find these days. We are proud to say we had a part in protecting this land.

The City Council should take the win, and vote to approve this worthwhile proposal.

Diana Gomez and Richard Marzo are former members of Petaluma’s Planning Commission

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