The Kelly Creek Protection Project this week announced it successfully raised the necessary funds to purchase 44 acres of coveted land in west Petaluma, signaling what could be the first major breakthrough in resolving a contentious land use battle that’s waged for 14 years.
The local nonprofit hit the $4.1 million goal outlined in an agreement reached in June with property owner Davidon Homes, a developer based in Walnut Creek. The two sides set Sept. 1 as the deadline to secure the most environmentally sensitive portion of the 58-acre property, which is located at the intersection of Windsor Drive and D Street, and encompasses the iconic Scott Ranch.
In exchange, KCPP will now support Davidon’s bid to construct 28 homes on the remaining 14 acres, pending successful passage of its site plans and environmental impact review by city officials. Although, if KCPP can raise an additional $6.9 million by Dec. 1, the developer will sell the entire property without building a single residence.
“It’s the realization of a long-term goal for almost 15 years since the property was first purchased for development,” KCPP director Greg Colvin said Tuesday.
The nonprofit initially raised $3 million for an extension of Helen Putnam Regional Park through its sponsorship from the Earth Island Institute, a group that backs environmental activism with fiscal support and organizational infrastructure.
To close the remaining $1.1 million gap for the first deadline, Colvin said the group received “a lot of individual donations,” as a well as a bridge loan from a single donor while KCPP awaits a decision later this fall on a $1 million matching grant program from the Sonoma County Ag and Open Space District.
If the grant money does not come through, KCPP will “see what kind of terms we can work out in the long run” with the source of the bridge loan, Colvin said.
The movement to purchase the land came after numerous clashes between environmental activists and Davidon Homes since the project was first proposed in 2004. Opponents have cited the potential harm to Kelly Creek and the natural habitat of the threatened California red-legged frog, as well as traffic increases on the two-lane thoroughfares and the risk of landslides.
Davidon Homes initially submitted an application for 93 homes, but the accompanying draft EIR in 2013 was widely criticized. The developer elected to scale back, providing options for 66 or 63 homes.
In March 2017, the revised environmental report discussed the impacts of that proposal, in addition to alternatives with 47 or 28 homes. A month later, the planning commission pushed the project forward for the city council to review a final EIR that also explored the possibility of no development south of Kelly Creek.
On June 19, 2017, the council deemed the subsequent report was inadequate with a unanimous vote that ultimately triggered recirculation, subjecting the project to another round of public hearings.
KCPP and Petalumans for Responsible Planning, or PetRP, the two organizations leading the fight, celebrated that decision as a victory. The ruling was used as leverage to compel the developer to negotiate a deal that would help secure part of the land to extend Helen Putnam Park and significantly reduce Davidon’s proposal, Colvin said.
PetRP steering committee member Sue Davy said they were invited to sit down, but the organization didn’t want to accept a deal that required them to support development and shirked their commitment to retaining the land as an open space.