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City pursues ‘Fair’ deal

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The Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds and city officials have met six times in the last 18 months to negotiate new lease terms for the 65-acre fairground site in the center of Petaluma. The current lease expires in 2023. According to fairgrounds CEO Sarah Cummings, her board has received “nothing solid” from the city and is “still waiting” for direction.

Petaluma city Councilman Mike Healy said that a consultant’s report on the future of the fairgrounds will be released next month.

“The public will have a much better idea of where things stand when that report is released,” he said. The goal of the negotiations is “a solution that makes the fair viable for the long-term,” but also makes use of the property for other purposes, he said.

The state-run fair has deep roots in the local agricultural community. It has operated since 1936 on the land it currently leases for $1 per year.

Recent discussions among community leaders have produced proposals to alter the basic structure of the fairgrounds, including such things as closing the Petaluma Speedway and reducing the size of the fairgrounds from its current 65 acres to as low as 20 to 30 acres, while adding mixed-use development to the land.

“The best long-term benefit for the city of Petaluma is something other then a 65-acre fairground,” said civil engineer Dave Alden.

Alden has formed a group of fellow engineers, architects and community leaders, including local businessman Ross Jones, former city councilman Matt Maguire, former Parks Commissioner John Fitzgerald,current Live Oaks Charter School executive director Matthew Morgan, and local urban planner Dave Powers. They have been developing a plan for the fairgrounds site that includes residential property, commercial business and industrial zoning.

In the past, such things as a convention center and even a minor league ballpark have been proposed for the location.

“Folks have been talking about doing something with that property for decades,” said Fitzgerald. “This is all part of an idea known as the new urbanism, which tries to create planning that moves away from sprawl development.”

Besides the five-day summer fair, the fairgrounds property hosts few events throughout the year and has little steady income. Skip Dominguez Saturday auctions, Live Oaks Charter School, the Sonoma County Airport Express, the Petaluma Speedway and a drive-thru coffee hut, are the main sources of revenue for the fair grounds. Business leaders in the past have complained that the fairgrounds could be used for more development.

Alden said his group would develop a plan and eventually present it to the city once the issue comes before the City Council. Still, he said time was short.

“Eight years can be the blink of an eye, when it comes to land use,” said Alden.

(Contact E. A. Barrera at ernesto.barrera@arguscou rier.com.)

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