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SMART deal leaves the station

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A deal that would have added hundreds of badly needed transit-oriented housing units and commuter parking spaces in Petaluma was called off last month, a heartbreaking outcome to a project more than three years in the making.

The developer behind the project, Lomas Partners, proposed building 225 parking spaces, 400 housing units and a second SMART station in Petaluma. The two-pronged development would have transformed the vacant lot near the downtown station with parking and rental housing as well as an underutilized parcel at Corona Road and McDowell Boulevard.

The Corona/McDowell location is the preferred site for an east side train station by Petaluma city officials. SMART pursued the agreement for the Corona site, but held firm to its rigid plan while the deal fell apart.

The deal would have required Lomas to build a 150-space parking garage at the southeast corner of the Corona lot. After talking to city officials, the developer tweaked the plan, moving the parking to the southwest corner, which is closer to where the station platform was to be built.

The revised plan also fit all 150 parking stalls at ground level, instead of the two-story garage. A parking structure certainly makes the property more useful than a surface lot, as SMART maintains, but this point seems to have nullified an otherwise good deal.

The agreement stipulated that SMART and the developer meet to discuss the project, and the parties agreed on a conference call on a Friday afternoon. But according to an email exchange, the developer wasn’t clear on the call-in number and missed the call. He left a message and an email for Farhad Mansourian, SMART’s general manager, soon after asking to reschedule the call, but he never heard back.

In a letter from SMART’s attorney to Lomas, SMART says the developer violated the contract by proposing to move the parking across the parcel, by proposing ground-level parking instead of a garage, and by missing the conference call.

This is not the conduct of a party that wants to make a deal work. If SMART officials really wanted the Corona station built expediently, they could have picked up the phone and called Todd Kurtin, the partner at Lomas, to work through the differences. Instead, the two sides are seemingly headed to court and Petaluma is left without its promised second station.

We know that Mansourian has been communicating with Cornerstone Properties, a Petaluma-based commercial developer, for at least three years to develop plans for an alternative station site located at the former Adobe Lumber property on Old Redwood Highway. The site is adjacent to offices Cornerstone owns in the Redwood Business Park, including the office that houses SMART’s headquarters.

Cornerstone last week announced plans to revamp the site with a “maker space” industrial area for food producers, similar to Sebastopol’s Barlow. Having a SMART station on the site would certainly benefit Cornerstone by allowing them to bring tourists to their new development.

Providing a nearby transit hub for commuters to get to work would also increase the value of Cornerstone’s office space in the area, and the company would certainly have incentive to sweeten a deal with SMART to build the Old Redwood station.

We are not sure what benefits such a deal would provide for SMART, the city of Petaluma and train riders. Indeed, SMART officials have yet to articulate any new plans for getting Petaluma’s second station built, or when that will happen.

But embarking on any new deal will certainly mean more delays for Petaluma train commuters.

The deal SMART is walking away from included 225 parking spaces, 400 housing units and a second Petaluma station. It’s not likely a better deal will be found any time soon.