Council hears two plans for downtown RP
RP council prefers Aecom vision to that of SunCal for State Farm development
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By Dave Williams  August 14, 2014 09:40 am

Since its inception in 1962, something’s always been missing from the Rohnert Park landscape.

Many feel Gertrude Stein’s famous quote about Oakland can be applied to Rohnert Park, “There’s no there there.” Sure, the city has grown by leaps and bounds since 1962, with myriad strip shopping centers and housing developments having been built.

But what can be considered downtown Rohnert Park…the heart of the city?

The Rohnert Park City Council is in the process of addressing that issue. During Tuesday night’s council meeting, councilmembers heard two presentations for the development of a downtown area for the vacant 30-acre State Farm site on Rohnert Park Expressway and State Farm Drive.

The two separate plans were presented by SunCal, a developer from Irvine that purchased the property last year and one from the city’s own consultant, Aecom.

Of the two, the council clearly favored the Aecom vision, which is loosely based on the Windsor Town Green development more than a decade ago. The Aecom vision calls for patrons to park and walk to proposed shops and parks. It also is a plan that is bicycle friendly.

“This is a great opportunity that is in front of all of us,” said Councilman Jake Mackenzie. “We’re at the beginning of what’s going to be a very important process in the second 50 years in the city of RP. We have an opportunity to create this downtown. The (Aecom) proposal is a very reasonable beginning of what we need to do.”

Mayor Joseph Callinan agreed with Mackenzie.

“Alternative A (Aecom) is much more favorable than Alternative B (SunCal) by far,” Callinan said.

Councilman Amy Ahonatu, up for reelection in November, feels this is a legacy project and also concurred with Mackenzie, saying, “This is the chance for us to make a difference in the future of the city of Rohnert Park.”

Callinan had some reservations, feeling the Aecom plan may lean too much toward walkability and too accommodating for bicyclists. He also expressed concern about some of the grocery stores in the plan would be impacted.

“The walkable shopping centers…I’m kind of nervous about that,” Callinan said. “With Safeway, Raley’s and the North Bay Shopping Center that’s just been remodeled…we have little control to tell them exactly how they should do certain things. The point is, with those shopping centers, most people go in to buy groceries and they’re going to haul them away in their car. Not many people are going on bikes to haul their groceries away. Those who live there (proposed housing areas) will, but 90 percent of customers are people that drive there. I’m concerned about making it too much walkable.”

Callinan also was leery about adding more crosswalks near State Farm and Rohnert Park Expressway. He’d prefer an overhead crossing structure.

“Adding more crosswalks halfway down there, I’m not a fan of it,” Callinan said. “But I agree we need to upgrade crosswalks on State farm and Expressway.” 

“We’re at the beginning of what’s going to be a very important process in the second 50 years in the city of RP.”

– RP Councilman

Jake Mackenzie,

SunCal’s plan, Rohnert Crossings, likely would have been more profitable than the Aecom proposal, but it fell out of favor with the council because of the high amount of housing, including single family homes. The smaller number of proposed retail shops also worked against SunCal’s plan.

Councilwoman Pam Stafford was not impressed.

“This isn’t anything that we’re looking…I didn’t want to see anything like this,” said Stafford, who also is up for reelection, of SunCal’s plan. “It’s one of those areas where people in the community ask me about all the time. When I tell them somebody wants to build a bunch of houses there, the immediate reaction from 20 people is we don’t want that. I don’t like the plan.”

Joe Guerra, a representative of SunCal, told the council his plan would make money, but Stafford and Callinan said that was not the issue.

“SunCal is a big company…it is not our job to make sure they make a profit,” Callinan said. “We’re here to work together.”

The consensus among the council was that it hopes the two sides can formulate a plan that will work for all involved. But that is going to take a bit of time.

“Let us take this as a first step, go back and see what community says now and how SunCal can fit in what the community’s saying,” Ahonatu said. “I don’t want to get the process started in a place where we are not going to come together and find common ground. Let’s sit down, hash it out and come up with something the community would like.”

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