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Next steps for achieving Rainier connector

The Petaluma city council voted unanimously in January 2017 to send ?$7 million of City funds to the Sonoma County Transportation Authority to build the Rainier Highway 101 undercrossing structure as part of the freeway widening project. The 101 widening through Petaluma is now just starting construction, and we expect the Rainier undercrossing structure to be completed in 2022.

A key opportunity to achieve another important step forward on the Rainier crosstown connector will be discussed at the city council meeting on Monday, Nov. 18. The two of us, along with Councilman Dave King, have submitted an agenda request memo to enable this important discussion.

A homebuilder, Warmington Residential, has options to purchase several parcels of land next to and behind the Marin Sun Farms facility on Petaluma Boulevard North. These are the parcels across which the Rainier connector is planned to be built. Warmington is proposing to provide several key components of the future Rainier crosstown connector in connection with building homes and townhomes on the balance of its site.

The land where Warmington wants to build is already zoned for medium density residential, so homes and townhomes are appropriate there.

More specifically, Warmington can provide the City with: (1) the entire right of way needed for Rainier between Petaluma Boulevard to just past the SMART tracks; (2) rough grading of Rainier, including importing fill, from Petaluma Boulevard to the foot of the future bridge over the Petaluma River; (3) actual construction of the portion of the Rainier connector needed to access Warmington’s homes and townhomes; (4) a new signalized intersection where Rainier touches Petaluma Boulevard; and (5) a retention basin required for the Rainier bridge.

These are expensive items, and the financial terms to be negotiated between Warmington and the City will hinge on several other variables, including: (1) how many homes and townhomes Warmington will be allowed to build; (2) whether a future street connecting Rainier to Shasta Avenue shown in the City’s General Plan can be shifted to a slightly different alignment; (3) whether Warmington receives full or partial credit against its traffic development impact fees for the Rainier components; and (4) whether Warmington can obtain alternative compliance with the City’s inclusionary affordable housing ordinance. (On the last point, there are two or three nonprofit housing developments in the pipeline in town that could make good use of in lieu housing fees paid by Warmington.)

Those are a lot of moving parts. The goal of the Nov. 18 meeting is for the council to take “straw votes” on these components to provide guidance so that City staff can negotiate an overall package with Warmington, to be brought back for city council approval.

This opportunity holds great promise for the City to take the next steps toward achieving the Rainier crosstown connector in the near future at significant cost savings without the need to condemn land.

(Mike Healy and Kathy Miller are members of the Petaluma City Council.)

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