By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park’s northwest edge already is colored by the prospect of great change, with work under way on a 534,000-square-foot Indian casino resort.
Now, city officials have started planning how an adjacent 90-acre neighborhood will develop — decisions that may be shaped in large part by the casino project and a few large-property owners.
“It’s the last specific plan envisioned in our general plan; we’re moving forward,” said Planning and Building Manager Marilyn Ponton, referring to the 2000 document that sketched where and how the city would grow.
A community meeting to gather input is set for 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall.
The area under study now is open fields and a few scattered homes. It’s currently designated variously for commercial, industrial, mixed-use, residential, high-density and park uses, but that may well change after community input, Ponton said.
The area borders the 254-acre Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria reservation on the north and east and stretches north behind Home Depot and Wal-Mart. Although it falls within Rohnert Park’s sphere of influence, the city has yet to annex the property.
Station Casinos, the Graton Rancheria’s Las Vegas backer, owns 34 acres of it, at the southern end. Dallas-based Cypress Equities owns about 17 acres on Wilfred Avenue, near the center of the area, which consists of 35 separate parcels.
City leaders say they see it as the site of primarily commercial development, although the general plan also allows for housing as well as two to four acres of park land.
“I think it’s going to be shopping centers and that kind of stuff,” Councilman Joe Callinan said. “That’s what brings in tax dollars.”
In 2006, Station Casinos executives said they would build an upscale shopping center on their land.
But the economic crash and the company’s bankruptcy — it has since reorganized — appeared to shelve that plan.
Station officials declined comment. But the company, through a subsidiary, Sonoma Land Acquisitions LLC, is paying the $443,000 cost of the consultant hired by the city to draw up planning documents and produce the necessary environmental reports for the area.
Cypress Equities has proposed a development that includes residences, retail uses and a hotel. Company officials did not respond to a request for additional details.
Real estate experts say while the casino is reshaping the area, it has not generated much stir in the commercial market.
“I think it takes ag land values and moves it up to commercial land values potentially, but in a market that’s still recovering, that kind of reaction isn’t going to occur for 10 years,” said Al Coppin, president of Keegan & Coppin, the North Bay’s largest commercial real estate firm.
“There’s a need for business-park land ultimately, but I’m not sure a casino is going to be the center of influence to create that,” he said.
The area would more likely attract shopping centers, retail developments and professional services, he said.
The city recently approved a five-story Oxford Suites hotel on a 4.5-acre site at the north end of Redwood Drive at Wilfred Avenue, which is to be renamed Golf Course Drive West. The hotel is expected to open in 2013.
“I think it’s very important that we make sure that we do it right,” Councilman Amy Ahanotu said. “That is an area that is going to be very important to the city in the near future.”
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.