By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa has sold the land that is home to a 65-foot-tall obelisk to the developers of a new Kia car dealership.
The sale of the triangular-shaped parcel to Empire Real Estate Holdings completes a controversial deal aimed at creating new Santa Rosa Avenue frontage for the dealership.
Neighbors have been divided over the proposal to abandon the southern tip of South A Street and reroute traffic down Barham Lane. Some worry about reduced access and traffic congestion, while supporters hope the project will revitalize a struggling commercial district sandwiched between Santa Rosa Avenue and Highway 101.
Work is already underway to prepare the site for construction. The owners of the adjacent Nissan of Santa Rosa dealership hope to have their 12,000-square-foot Kia dealership open by fall. The business expects to hire 20 people and generate $25 million in sales.
The City Council signed off on the plan last August, but it took several months to work out the details of the transaction. This included placing a value on the 7,400-square-foot parcel, which is made up of the triangular piece where the obelisk sits and a portion of the street.
The developer in late February paid the city $86,865 for the parcel.
While private real estate investors often seek to sell property at top dollar, the city offered it at “fair market value.” The value was determined by comparing the property to those acquired by the city for the widening of Santa Rosa Avenue, said Josh Maresca, the city’s right-of-way agent. The value was then reduced by several factors, including the variety of easements across the property, Maresca said.
The city’s formula for determining the price does not take into account the level of the buyer’s interest in the property, said Molly Dillon, assistant city attorney.
“We weren’t going to try to hold it over their heads and extract crazy amounts of money,” Dillon said.
The city utilizes a similar approach when determining how much it will pay when it takes private property by eminent domain, she said.
If it weren’t for the city’s willingness to reconfigure the street, Kia never would have approved the site, said Lawrence Amaturo, co-owner of Nissan of Santa Rosa and one of the developers of the new dealership.
Now, instead of being located off a side street, the Kia dealership will have 135 feet of prime Santa Rosa Avenue frontage with room to display 15 vehicles, Amaturo said.
He said he tried to get the city to lower the price, to no avail. “They played very evenhandedly in this,” Amaturo said.
The city will retain ownership of the obelisk, a 10,000-pound sculpture made of discarded bicycle parts titled Cyclisk.
Amaturo said he’s planning some upgrades to the property, including benches, landscaping and even some “soft” lighting of the statue.
The property comes with an easement allowing workers access to the site to maintain the sculpture, which was funded by public art development fees paid by Nissan of Santa Rosa, which opened in 2009.
The parcel being sold is actually one of three related to the abandonment of the 27,000-square-foot section of South A Street.
When a public agency gives up its interest in a property, how it disposes of the land depends on how it got it in the first place, Dillon explained.
In the case of South A Street, the city does not own the street outright. The property appears to have been conveyed to Sonoma County as an easement in 1900 and was later annexed by the city, Dillon said.
In such cases, the law calls for the land to revert at no cost to the adjacent property owners.
That means the west side of the street is reverting to Empire Real Estate Holdings, while most of the east side is reverting to Good Stuff Auto, a used car dealership owned by Jim Bennett, who is suing the city over the deal.