Editorial: Scott Ranch is a good compromise for Petaluma

The deal, 20 years in the making, means 28 homes instead of 93, and a 47-acre extension at Helen Putnam park.|

Petaluma is blessed with plenty of open space, but it’s easy to argue that its crown jewel can be found in the rolling hills of Helen Putnam Regional Park.

Its six miles of trails crisscross shaded oak groves and Cattail Pond, as you climb to the highest points of the Overlook and Panorama trails, with their sweeping views of Chileno Valley, the bay and Petaluma’s signature hillsides that transform from green to golden as the seasons change.

The park will soon get 44 more acres, for a total of 260, thanks to a smart, albeit complicated, partnership forged between the city, a developer and a dedicated group of conservationists.

Back in 2003, a 58-acre swath of land adjacent to the park, at the end of D Street, was zoned for 110 houses. That inspired developer Davidon Homes to purchase the Scott Ranch site for about $8 million, with plans to erect 93 large homes in the environmentally sensitive region.

Unsurprisingly, most of Petaluma did not like that plan.

Discussions about the project bounced around public meetings for more than a decade, as the city and the developer sought common ground. In 2017, a group of conservationists led by Greg Colvin, which eventually became the Kelly Creek Protection Project, struck a deal with Davidon.

If they could raise the $11 million, roughly $3 million more than the developer paid for the parcel, they could protect all 58 acres forever as parkland.

Unfortunately, people don’t always put their money where their mouth is, even when the cause is important to them. Kelly Creek Protection Project did not raise the dollars needed to buy the whole property, but did strike another deal with Davidon.

For $4.1 million, including a $1 million grant from Sonoma County’s Agriculture and Open Space District, KCPP could buy 47 acres to preserve as part of Helen Putnam Regional Park. The developer would dedicate another 5 acres to open space, but be allowed to build 28 high-end homes on the remaining 6.4 acres, which would be contiguous with development already in place on D Street.

After 20 years of debate about the 58-acre parcel, the Petaluma City Council unanimously approved this deal on Feb. 27. And much like the applause that rang out in council chambers late that night, we, too, applaud this sensible agreement that will preserve more open space in our crown jewel park.

Could this deal have been better? Perhaps.

It could have included more affordable units, for example. But that was unlikely to pencil out for Davidon, which has paid property taxes on the site for two decades. To see a developer willing to make these concessions, sell the bulk of the land for half of what it paid, and offer up 28 homes instead of 93, is a rare day indeed.

As we continue to tackle the careful balancing act of preserving our natural resources while also adding to our needed housing stock, we hope to see more deals like this.

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