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July 16, 2018
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Rohnert Station designs show a hip and urban atmosphere for future downtown

  • A rendering for the design of Station Avenue - the future downtown, shows a bird's eye view of he central square. Photo courtesy of Rohnert Park City Council supplemental item.

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
June 29, 2018

Open air cafes, lush greenery, clean lines, natural elements and a modern flair were all part of Tuesday evening’s Laulima Development rendering presentation to the Rohnert Park City Council, which held a special study session to review potential designs for the city’s future downtown Rohnert Station, now known as Station Avenue. Following the presentation and review, council members seemed to overall like the plans, however, they had a few key concerns on some of the elements of the design, such as the use of palm trees, which do not often thrive in the Northern California climate.

In addition to the development plan and designs, Laulima also created a tentative map of the lay of the land for the new downtown square, which is centered around the SMART train station off Rohnert Park Expressway and the old State Farm property. 

The map shows a diverse and integrated downtown plan, with several parking structures near the train station and the expressway, around 460 residential unit townhomes near a neighborhood park, 12,000 square feet of office space near Enterprise Drive, a 156-room hotel and 130,000 square feet of retail centered around a central lawn and square.

While the map is a good aid in envisioning the scope and lay out of the future Station Avenue, the renderings give life to council members and Laulimas’ ideas of how the downtown hub may look.

Earlier this year at a January 9 city council meeting, city staff brought a presentation of different design and architectural elements in Rohnert Park, Cotati and other cities throughout the county, to garner ideas from city council members which elements they liked and which they didn’t. Council members ultimately decided that they prefer more of a modern, Mediterranean blend of styles.

While the renderings reflect more of an “urban contemporary” style, they do have many elements that council members said they would like to incorporate, including natural aspects such as wood and greenery and design pieces that create a sense of place — designated zones for farmer’s market or event tents, a common green and a portal area to the SMART train and retail shops — an aspect that Council member Jake Mackenzie supports.

“We want to bring character, to make it feel warm and interesting,” said Jes Slavik, director of planning and design at Laulima.

In addition to council member feedback, the designs rely heavily on potential tenants’ ideas for design and that is where the contemporary elements come into play. 

Many of the buildings in the renderings feature clean lines, warm colors, stonework and an open concept feel. The main square serves as the central gathering place, with a curved water feature, expansive lawn, plenty of mature trees, wooden pergolas and small stand cafes. Mixed-use buildings would have retail on the first floor, with tenants putting their own mark on the building by designing their own storefronts. Office space would take up the second floor and the rest of the floors for the five-story buildings would be dedicated to residential units.

“The designs for Station Avenue are urban in nature and borrow from a variety of architectural traditions,” the agenda item report by Planning Manager, Jeffrey Beiswenger and City Planner III, Zach Tusinger states. “The designs rely on high quality materials, functional architecture, well-thought out landscape design and place-making strategies, connections to parking and transit and active programming of civic and community events…”

Despite forgoing Mediterranean elements, Council member Gina Belforte said she is excited about this project and likes the idea for individual storefronts, the warm color palette and the elements of character. 

“I like the individual storefronts, I don’t want anything to look institutionalized… and I am all about character, it is those fine little things that can really make a difference and give you that sense of place,” Belforte said, who also mentioned that instead of palm trees at the entrance of the station, perhaps the redwood tree should be used to blend with the landscape style of the expressway. Yet there were some other major concerns with the designs, that it felt a little non-inclusive towards the other parts of town, such as the Raley’s Town Center and that the massive parking garage planned may be an eyesore.

Slavik said they will try to keep all sides of the downtown attractive with landscaping and character elements and also said they plan to have paths from the downtown connect to the two Raleigh’s Town Center entrances to try and foster connectivity with other shopping destinations.

Council member Amy Ahanotu voiced to the council and attendees, that Rohnert Park may not be as quiet after this and despite the fact that people want more of a nightlife, the downtown still has to be considerate to those who want a serene environment.

“I see a very promising project and I like what I see, but remember, we have people that want a quiet environment. We have to make sure to include neighborhoods in the process,” Ahanotu said.  

With these comments and concerns in consideration, the next step for the project will be working with the applicant to finalize the final draft of the development plan, site plan and architectural plans.

After park and planning commission approval, the final plan, conditional use permit, tentative map, development agreement, compliance document and form-based code, will all come back to city council for final approval either later summer or early this fall.

Laulima developers hope this streamlined approval approach will mean having the downtown complete in the third quarter of 2020.