|RP Council gives OK on plan for future downtown
‘Placemaking’ becomes the new buzzword at council meeting
By Jud Snyder
RP’s City Council has a new word to add to its agendas. It’s “placemaking,” and, no, it has nothing to do with waiting on tables. It’s an approach to defining a downtown area already labeled as Priority Development Area (PDA).
(The map to the right shows the (PDA) destined to create a central downtown plan for RP.)
At Tuesday night’s meeting the city council held a study session on placemaking and its components. The facts for this session were laid out by Marilyn Ponton, planning and building manager, and Darren Jenkins, city engineer and director of development services.
The PDA begins at the point where Golf Course Drive meets the freeway. It’s bounded by SMART train tracks on the east and the freeway on the west. The southern border is both Avram Avenue and Santa Alicia Avenue. The PDA triangle also includes Commerce Boulevard, State Farm Drive and the vacant State Farm Insurance acreage. It’s bisected east to west by RP Expressway.
It’s a bit early in the game to be talking about “downtown RP” or “City Center.” Two major factors are (a), Where’s the money coming from to do all the work needed?, and (b), What’s the role of the vacant State Farm Insurance’s 29 acres in the middle of the PDA?
Jenkins noted Sonoma County Transit Authority (SCTA) and Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) have about $22 million in grant money specifically set aside for transit needs in Sonoma County.
“There’s a lot of competition for this grant,” said Jenkins. “We expect to ask for two to two and one half million dollars to do preliminary tasks like a Request For Proposals (RFP) for the PDA, planning profile, EIR land use alternatives, General Plan amendment, public outreach and other requirements.”
As for State Farm Insurance’s property, Jenkins said the city isn’t involved with any negotiations, even with a PDA grant. “It’s too expensive for us. But State Farm is in talks with several potential buyers, and all we’re doing is supplying facts, like zoning and land use details.”
One element of this placemaking process is showing some progress. SMART commuter trains will eventually be running between Santa Rosa and San Rafael. It’s a step to the full SMART route between Cloverdale and Larkspur.
The city and NWP Railroad own a strip of land between State Farm Insurance and Valley Village mobile home park. The thin strip has room for an extension of Seed Farm Drive north to RP Expressway, but the main entrance to the station will be at Enterprise Drive, where the city’s Dept. of Public Works is located. It’ll have parking, bike trail and pedestrian walkways.
The combination of a commute train station south of RPX, City Center Park and public library north of RPX is destined to be the core of a future downtown park. It’s future mix of housing, retail stores, parks and parking are still in the future.
It was a lot for the city council to absorb Tuesday night.
Councilman Amy Ahanotu wondered about left hand turns on RPX by commuters from Seed Farm Drive. At this point, the answer is “No.” But the final words on this still have to be worked out.
Councilman Joe Callinan said, “We still don’t know who’s going to buy State Farm. There’s a lot of opportunity here.”
Mayor Jake Mackenzie said, “We control the city’s destiny here, for we can tell developers what we want to see, I’m looking forward to a PDA grant.”
Vice-Mayor Pam Stafford agreed with Mackenzie. “We should have control on what goes into State Farm’s property.”
Councilwoman Gina Belforte praised the work both Jenkins and Ponton have accomplished in laying out the basic steps of placemaking. “I’m looking forward to the future.”
No vote was taken. The session was a work study. Now Jenkins and Ponton have a green light to pursue the PDA grant process, one of the two major keys in laying the initial groundwork.