By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Windsor’s train station doesn’t have passenger rail service yet, but it’s already dictating how the town will grow over the next 20 to 25 years.
In a half-mile radius around the station, urban planners have come up with a vision to enhance the area “as the civic and cultural heart of the downtown.”
The station is considered integral to a transit-oriented future in which people live and work within walking distance of trains and buses.
“The whole point is to put density in a place where people have access to transit, so they can get by with fewer cars and be able to live and get services without having to drive. Near a SMART (Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit) station is the perfect place to do that,” said Mayor Debora Fudge, who also is a member of the SMART board of directors.
Almost three years after getting a $300,000 grant from the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission to help pay for it, the Windsor Town Council has approved its “Station Area Plan,” similar to train-centric plans finalized in Santa Rosa and Cloverdale.
The plan for the station, located at Windsor River Road and Windsor Road, about a block from the Town Green, revolves around passenger train service now projected to be in place from San Rafael to Santa Rosa by late 2015 or early 2016. Until trains run farther north to Windsor, Healdsburg and Cloverdale, bus service is planned to take commuters to and from those stations to waiting trains in Santa Rosa.
With its relatively new and still incomplete Town Green Village, Windsor might seem to have little need to plan for development in its central core. But the Station Area Plan supersedes a 1997 document that ushered in the shops, town homes and row houses that sprang up around the four-acre Town Green.
It calls for increased housing density and “an enhanced public realm” with more parks, open spaces, streetscape improvements, outdoor dining and community gathering spots. It spells out development standards, zoning regulations and design guidelines.
“It’s all about smart growth, trying to build a more compact downtown,” said Planning Director Jim Bergman.
Fudge noted that the previous plan that allowed for increased density downtown had produced howls of protests among those who feared construction of ugly apartments.
“Fifteen years ago, there was a huge outcry,” she said. “There was no resistance this time.”
She said the creation of Town Green Village with its mix of ground floor businesses and townhomes dispelled doubts about higher housing densities.
However, some Town Green developments have struggled. Developer Oren Thiessen, who was one of the its leading proponents, had a number of properties fall into default last summer before filing for bankrupcty. One was a partially built project with businesses on the ground floor and residences overhead and others were completed buildings without enough tenants.
In the 390-acre area around the train station, the new plan allows as much as 30 units per acre and anticipates going from the current 2,800 population to 5,220 by the year 2035.
The existing 990 households would increase to 2,220. Commercial space would go from the existing 153,000 square feet to more than 900,000.
The plan encourages more educational uses, such as a Santa Rosa Junior College extension and strives to attract at least one hotel.
There are 46 acres of vacant land and an additional 36 acres that are considered under-utilized. That includes the civic center and the library — town-owned land that could be redeveloped or expanded.
In particular, council members want to see a new street built on the north side of the Town Green with commercial frontage, allowing for traffic circulation on all four sides of the public space, similar to the plazas in Healdsburg and Sonoma.
To ensure vibrancy, the plan calls for promoting more activities and attractions, such as restaurants, entertainment venues, art, culture and athletic events.
In approving the plan, council members expressed concerns about ensuring that the town can handle the increased vehicle traffic and greater demand for water.
“Because we have a plan doesn’t mean we will have another 90 units downtown tomorrow,” Fudge said.
Implementation, she said, will be “on a project-by-project basis as we have the resources and developers have the financing.”