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East Petaluma SMART station deal reached

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Editor’s Note: This is part two of a series looking at Petaluma commuting as SMART prepares to debut train service.

As Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit prepares to launch service this summer and city officials work to address potential snarls caused by a lack of station parking, plans are coming together for a parking structure at a long-awaited east Petaluma station.

After years of negotiations, SMART officials Monday afternoon struck an agreement with Newport Beach-based Lomas Partners, LLC, that could pave the way for the development of a 150-space parking structure at the future Corona Road station, SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian said.

Lomas will now work with the city and regional water quality agency for permissions, he said. If the deal moves forward, the developer would construct a parking lot on the land at Corona Road and North McDowell Boulevard and dedicate the rest of the parcel for the construction of a station, Mansourian said. In exchange, Lomas would pay the agency an undisclosed price and get a SMART-owned downtown parcel to be used for future development, he said.

“This will be a very good thing for Petaluma,” he said.

City Manager John Brown said the city council voted to set aside traffic impact fees in part to help the developer build a parking structure. No development applications have been submitted to the city for the downtown lot or the parking garage, he said.

“The east side facility has always been the one envisioned to be that which commuters would use,” he said. “The expectation was that there would be a volume of parking available at the east side station. It’s lamentable that SMART didn’t move forward to include that parking it its own plan for that station. Be that as it may, we’re working with a private developer for all the commuter demand we think exists for the SMART train.”

Currently, the sole Petaluma station is on Lakeville Street near the city’s core business district and a large network of residential streets. While Petaluma Transit operators last month implemented tweaks to the bus network to bolster connectivity to the train, it’s not yet clear how many commuters will drive to the station.

SMART constructed a temporary paid parking lot with 50 vehicle spots and 25 bike racks. The city plans to debut commuter parking in an existing lot at the Petaluma Arts Center within the next month, said Dan St. John, the city’s director of public works and utilities.

An estimated 33 spaces will be open for the general public, with 19 spots reserved for the visitors’ and arts center, City Engineer Curt Bates said. The lot will include six accessible parking stalls and two electric vehicle spaces, with no overnight use, he said.

Unlike the adjacent SMART lot, which will cost $2 per day, those spots will be free, St. John said.

In the meantime, St. John said the city will monitor residential neighborhoods surrounding the station, which are lined with unregulated parking. If necessary, officials will explore options to regulate parking, including possibly creating a permit system for residents.

“We’re going to keep a real close eye on those and if we start seeing spillover, we’ll likely take some action to restrict parking in that area or provide parking for residents only,” he said.

St. John and Holly Wick, president of the Petaluma Downtown Association’s Board of Directors, say they’re not anticipating an outsize impact on the already-congested business district, where much of the free street parking is currently restricted to two hours

“I don’t think it will spill over because of the distance … for a commuter, every minute counts,” St. John said. “You’re probably not going to be parking in the Keller Street garage to take SMART.”

Still, other leaders in the business community have expressed concern about the impacts on merchants, citing the currently existing struggle to find long-term parking in the area.

“Parking is something that will have to be addressed,” Petaluma Chamber of Commerce CEO Onita Pellegrini said.

The conversation comes as the Petaluma Downtown Association is reviewing the results of two surveys sent out to business owners to help identify solutions to a parking crunch that some merchants say harms their businesses in an already tumultuous climate as online shopping spikes.

Wick, who owns a downtown business, said respondents were “overwhelmingly” in favor of realigning Keller and Liberty streets to restrict traffic to a one-way flow to add 36 free spots with a four-hour time limit. An architect also submitted a proposal for a modular parking structure at the city-owned A Street lot at 2 Fourth St. The committee is also looking into ways to lease vacant downtown lots for employee parking, she said.

Because of the station’s distance from Highway 101, its proximity to the Copeland Street Transit Mall and existing and future residential neighborhoods, the city and SMART officials have projected a “minimal demand” for parking in the area, according to a city SMART-area development plan.

Sonoma County Supervisor and SMART Board of Directors member David Rabbitt said he’s long advocated for additional parking at stations along the 43-mile track.

“I’ve always contended that we need more parking at each and every station. Look at BART, it’s on a different scale because of the size of the population, but over the course of time, additional parking structures have been built at every BART station,” he said. “As much as we want public transit and that first mile and last mile connection to connect, at some point there are people who are living farther away who can’t walk or it’s not convenient to take transit and they want to drive and take the train.”

He said he’s hoping to find more opportunities for parking in Petaluma, though there are no plans on the table.

“There might not be parking spots if you’re not there by the first train … you might stay in your car and drive instead,” he said.

Dave Alden, a civil engineer who recently served as the chair of the city’s transit advisory committee, echoed Rabbitt’s sentiment. He acknowledged that connecting from a bus to a train could take more time than driving directly to a station.

“If people get in that mode and come down to the SMART station and see no parking in the new lot, they may say ‘the hell with it,’” he said.

The tab racks up quickly for SMART riders relying solely on public transportation. For a commuter leaving from the Sonoma Mountain Parkway neighborhood and headed to a job near the San Francisco Civic Center, round trip transportation could cost as much as $46.50 daily or $232.50 a week.

(Contact Hannah Beausang at hannah.beausang@arguscourier.com.)