By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
After looking at the pros and cons of where to put a northern Santa Rosa commuter rail station, North Bay transit officials Wednesday selected a site near Coddingtown Mall it believes has the potential to revitalize the area.
“As you walk around the site, you think that this is the perfect site for a station,” said Barbara Pahre of Napa, the chairwoman of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit real estate committee.
Pahre holds the seat on the SMART board representing the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District.
The station site on Guerneville Road is next to the railroad tracks and is land that now has a Kelly-Moore Paint Co. store and Sonoma Kitchen & Bath store on it. A third parcel, now vacant, also would be acquired.
The site would provide easy access for pedestrians, motorists, bicyclists and bus transit passengers and is highly visible, said John Nemeth, the SMART planning manager.
The committee rejected a site on Jennings Avenue that has been the preferred station site since it was recommended in 1997 by Berkeley urban designer Peter Calthorpe, an icon in the transit-oriented development world.
“The idea is 13 years old; things have changed,” said Debora Fudge, a Windsor councilwoman and SMART chairwoman. “Even Calthorpe would approve of this site.”
It is the final site to be selected for the 14 stations on the line, which runs 70 miles from Cloverdale to Larkspur and is scheduled to open in 2014.
The previous site, 9.8 acres, is former Northern Pacific Railroad right-of-way adjacent to a low-income housing project. It has space for 630 parking spaces and is closer to Santa Rosa Junior College, which could be a factor if the city follows through on plans for a pedestrian overcrossing of Highway 101.
However, a century of railroad use has heavily polluted the soil and groundwater and could cause problems getting the site cleaned up by the owner, Union Pacific, to the satisfaction of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
The Guerneville Road site was proposed to SMART as an alternative several months ago by Codding Enterprises, owner of the mall nearby, and by a group of Sonoma County urban designers and architects that held a design competition. Codding paid $20,000 to study the site, a report relied upon by SMART planners.
Nemeth said the preliminary estimates to buy and develop the sites were similar, $6.5 million for Jennings Avenue and $6.8 million for Guerneville Road.
The Guerneville site also has a higher density of residential and business development around it than the Jennings site, Nemeth said. However, it is also smaller, allowing about 350 parking spaces, and it is farther from the junior college, although both sites are a mile or more away.
With either site, junior college students likely would want a bus shuttle or will bicycle rather than walk that distance, said SMART committee member Madeline Kellner of Novato.
Geof Syphers, Codding Enterprises sustainability officer, said the Guerneville Road site would be a boost for the mall, but he sees it as a boon to the entire Guerneville Road corridor.
“People will be able to live, work and shop all in one area,” Syphers said.
The SMART committee instructed its staff to proceed with an environmental assessment, property appraisals and site preparation costs.
Barring surprises, the site will be recommended to the full SMART board at its June 16 meeting.
The city of Santa Rosa has a $400,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for a $500,000 project to plan land development around the station.