By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
St. Vincent de Paul High School may now proceed with plans to modify its athletic fields after the Petaluma City Council on Monday agreed to sell back to the school a narrow strip of land the school gave the city a half-century ago.
This summer, the Catholic school, on Keokuk Street in west Petaluma, asked the city if it could take back a 15-foot wide, 316-foot long strip of Cherry Street adjacent to the school’s baseball and football fields near Deerfield Lane.
The school has long used part of the land for its baseball fields, including a pitching bullpen. When administrators looked at building a snack shack and restrooms on the land, plans ran into a snag because of the city ownership.
City staff recommended the school be charged fair market value for the 4,740-square-foot strip of land, which is $8,500.
Councilman Mike Healy questioned the fairness of taking the land from the school without compensation years ago, but now requiring it to pay for its return.
The history of the land-trade dates to September 1959, when the school was built and its use permit approved. Then, the city engineer decided that the city needed a 15-foot right-of-way in case planners ever wanted to widen Cherry Street. The street was never widened.
A formal land transfer occurred in 1994 when the school dedicated the right of way to the city, a move required by the city when the school applied for a classroom expansion.
Over the decades, the school has used the land, even fencing off a small portion of it, although no permanent structures were ever built on it.
Attorneys advise the city that it could require compensation or simply give the land back to the school. A staff report noted that the land has little value to anyone other than St. Vincent because of its size and location.
Healy suggested the council waive payment. But Councilwoman Teresa Barrett said she would oppose any deal unless the city was compensated.
“Property appreciates over time,” she said. “I don’t think the city is in any position not to collect money it can get.”
Mayor David Glass forged a deal, which the council approved unanimously: charge St. Vincent $8,500, but subtract any fees it has paid for the city process. That exact figure wasn’t available late Monday night.
“Everyone gets a little bit of something,” he said.