New Petaluma homes approved, but no one to build them

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While approvals for one of the largest housing projects in Petaluma continue to move forward, construction seems like a distant reality as efforts by the builder to sell the ambitious development remain unsuccessful.

The Petaluma Planning Commission on Tuesday approved the third phase of residences at the Riverfront development, located on a 35-acre property bordered by Highway 101, the Petaluma River and Hopper Street.

This week’s decision cleared the path for all 134 single-family homes to be constructed in the so-called Northbank neighborhood – part of a housing project slated to bring 273 total units to Petaluma, including townhouses, apartments and office spaces.

But the housing elements of the project have been in limbo since builder Comstock Homes last year decided to sell the venture. At Tuesday’s meeting, Comstock’s director of project management Jeff Malone said there have been three potential buyers, but all three eventually passed.

“Comstock won’t be building it out,” Malone said. “We’ve had other builders look at it actually under contract and bid-out the plans, and we’ve gotten the same response from all of them, who have passed on it. The costs are just a bit high.”

In addition to the third phase of homes, Comstock also pursued a series of cost-saving modifications to the residences that were already approved in the first two phases. The planning commission eventually OK’d alterations to the roofing, garages, siding, porch rails and patio doors, but denied the request to remove window grids, which would have been the most frugal adjustment.

The property, owned by Basin Street Properties, will also include a 122-room Courtyard by Marriott, which was initially approved in March 2017. Construction documents for the hotel were submitted to city officials last June.

Concerns about traffic flow and access have persisted since the development process began in 2014, although the planning commission didn’t have the authority to issue any denials at this stage related to transportation.

The project was designed with the idea that the Caulfield Lane connector would run through the middle of the development and cross the Petaluma River on a new bridge to Petaluma Boulevard, said Principal Planner Emmanuel Ursu.

Until the connector is complete, though, the only access into the property is through Hopper Street.

“We’re going ahead with another development that has a connector promise but is nowhere near it on the horizon,” said Commissioner Bill Wolpert.

Planning Manager Heather Hines said the city is currently performing design work on the connector project, and that the Riverfront development had to be weighed based on its individual merits, as well as the bigger picture and what was anticipated for that area.

“There’s the short-term on making sure this project stands on its own, and then there’s the long-term and what our policy documents say, making sure it fits with that long-term vision as well,” she said. “That was done back in 2014 when the project was approved.”

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at yousef.baig@arguscourier.com or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)

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