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Opinion: Stop historic home ‘remodel’

Homeowners in the A Street Historic District of downtown Petaluma have recently been rattled to the core by the complete lack of support for historic and cultural preservation by the city’s planning department and its Historic and Cultural Preservation Committee.

The owners of the historic 1905 home located at 26 6th St., designed by local architectural legend Brainerd Jones, have proposed a massive remodel project to begin as soon as Oct. 6, which will essentially gut and forever change the character of this historic home as well as its surrounding environment.

Due to its location within a designated historic district of Petaluma, the project was reviewed by the HCPC, which despite its reputation for protecting historically significant structures in Petaluma, astonishingly approved this project without thorough review, and without questioning the requirement of a California Environmental Quality Act review for a project of this magnitude.

The endorsed project includes a massive excavation of 1,200 cubic yards of soil underneath the entire home in order to create a full-story, 4,210-square-foot underground four-car parking garage complete with vehicle turntable and elevator.

Not only will the downward sloping driveway be readily apparent to all passersby, but this significant excavation has the potential to cause irreversible damage to several surrounding historic homes and protected trees, as well as a permanent reduction in ground water.

The project also seeks to demolish the entire back of the home, adding 832 square feet of interior space, a 710-square-foot lower deck, and a 460-square-foot outdoor terrace at attic level height, providing unimpeded views down into the properties of eight surrounding neighbors, and removing historically significant architectural features in the process, again clearly visible from bordering streets.

We, like so many, have long appreciated the historic, charming and architecturally interesting neighborhoods of Petaluma, which have been a hallmark of the city, drawing visitors from across the region. The precedent set by this landmark decision will have long-lasting and far-reaching effects on the very essence of Petaluma's identity, and represents an alarming trend in local residential development. With its carte-blanche approval, the HCPC has set a new, lowered standard for historic preservation and environmental review requirements in Petaluma.

This project does not so much propose a remodel of this historically significant resource, but rather a complete transformation of the original structure to suit the extravagant desires of its new owners, more than doubling the home's overall size from 4,241 square feet to nearly 9,300 square feet.

Allowing this to proceed unchallenged represents the dissolution of Petaluma's cherished designated historic neighborhoods. If you care about preserving the history and culture of Petaluma, and are concerned about proper environmental project review being performed, please write to your City Council members and the city's planning department to make your voice heard on this precedent setting project before it's too late.

Landmark decisions such as these will forever alter the character and composition of Petaluma, a town that has long prided itself on its historic preservation.

(Elsa Beatty, Todd and Margie Turrel, and Larry Steiner are downtown Petaluma homeowners.)

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