Monday, April 23, 2012

Petaluma Station Area Planning

For the past eighteen months, the City of Petaluma, their consultant team, and two advisory committees have been pursuing the Petaluma Station Area Plan.  Funded by a grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the goal of the plan is the facilitation of additional residential units around the proposed Petaluma and Corona Road SMART stations.  For those not in the North Bay, SMART is Sonoma Marin Area Rapid Transit.  SMART is building a commuter rail line that will eventually connect communities from Larkspur in Marin County to Cloverdale in Sonoma County

Development around rail stations and other transit centers, called transit-oriented development or TOD, is a key element of new urbanism.

Although the Corona Road station was deferred by the SMART board during the course of the study, both stations are incorporated into the final report.  But more time was spent on the downtown Petaluma site.

The draft final report will be presented to the Station Area Plan Citizens Advisory Committee on Wednesday, April 25 from 6:00pm to 8:30pm at the Community Center.  The public is invited.  I encourage you to attend.  This meeting is one of a long string of meetings heading toward eventual adoption of the report by the City Council and subsequent implementation of the report’s recommendations.

(Acknowledgment: I’m serving on the Station Area Plan Citizens Advisory Committee or SAPCAC.  Yeah, it’s pronounced pretty much like it’s spelled.) 

The resulting downtown plan incorporates three primary sites.  The first is the site immediately adjoining the station.  This land is owned by SMART and will be offered to potential developers after the Station Area Plan is adopted.  The next site next is to the southwest and is often called the Haystack site.  It’s currently in bankruptcy court.  The bankruptcy judge has solicited proposals from potential developers so the bankruptcy can be concluded.  The last site is the Golden Eagle Shopping Center.  Golden Eagle is currently fully developed, but has a configuration that is less than optimal for its urban setting.  It’s likely that the growing urbanism of downtown Petaluma will eventually make it feasible for the Golden Eagle owner to reconfigure the site into an urbanist development, although the redevelopment is far more likely to occur in 2035 than in 2015.

The proposed land use plan area is appropriate for Petaluma urbanism.  It has buildings from four to six stories in height with streetfront retail in many locations.  It provides for parking in expectation that residents will still need cars for many tasks, but with the hope that many families will eventually become one-car households.   It accommodates the coming SMART station, including the need for some passengers to transfer from local buses or shuttles and for other passengers to arrive on foot or by bicycle.

Perhaps the only need that some Petaluma residents will find unmet is more parking for SMART commuters.  However, the Corona Road station is envisioned as the park-and-ride location for Petaluma.  The decision was made not to let the temporary deferral of that station sidetrack the urbanist vision of the downtown station area.

It’s important to note that eventual adoption of the report will not trigger construction.  Instead, the report will be a blueprint against which SMART, city staff, and the Petaluma community can judge the development proposals that will come forth later.

The study identified several changes that are required in the physical configuration of the site and in the City development standards.  Some of these are:

·         The current blocks between E. Washington Street and D Street are too long for a walkable urbanist community and are ineffective for traffic flow to the SMART station.  A new street is proposed between Weller and the SMART station, halving the current blocks.  This street was given the interim name of Transverse Street.  Renaming rights remain available in exchange for development funding.

·         The current SmartCode, which governs development in the Station Area, calls for retail along much of the street frontage.  The consultant team found that the community couldn’t absorb this much retail and is proposing changes in the SmartCode.

·         The economic consultant found that the current impact fee structure fails to incentivize the smaller residential units that are most appropriate for TOD.  He’s proposing an alternative structure.

I won’t promise great excitement at the meeting.  Most municipal land use meetings teeter on the edge of boredom.  But if you care about the future of the Petaluma community, I suggest attending.  Wednesday, April 25 from 6:00pm to 8:30pm at the Community Center.

If you want to review the report before the meeting, you can go here.  There’s a wealth of information in the draft report.  I suggest scanning the first seven sections for the highlights and then reading Section 8 in more detail.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (


  1. Are there any plans to work with SCT or GGT to promote bus use, too? SMART won't run much during the day, after all.

    1. Dave, I can't speak directly about Sonoma County Transit or Golden Gate Transit. However, I sit on the Transit Advisory Committee for the City of Petaluma. I know that Petaluma Transit is working closely with SMART about how their services can be complementary. I assume that similar conversations are underway between SMART, SCT, and GGT.