By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A plan to encourage development of a transit-oriented community around a future train station got sidetracked Tuesday by Santa Rosa City Council members concerned that the 300-page plan was overreaching and lacking the support of Coddingtown mall.
The council spent four hours picking apart the long-range plan before directing staff to strip out several proposals that Coddingtown officials said would hinder the very economic development the plan sought to foster.
Kirstie Moore, development manager of mall co-owner Codding Enterprises, said plans for streets and bicycle paths across its properties would create “excessive undue economic hardship” for the mall.
The goal of the plan is to encourage more people to live around the train station just west of the mall to support ridership for the $360 million Sonoma Marin Area Transit train. It calls for tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements aimed at making it easier for people to get to the station by bicycle, foot and car.
Moore said the mall agrees with the idea of increasing housing densities in the area and encouraging economic development, but the plan as drafted would require the taking of private property and harm mall operations.
She said the mall opposes plans for the extension of Coffey Lane, the construction of three roundabouts on Range Avenue and two bicycle paths running across mall parking lots.
Councilman Scott Bartley said the city needs to take the mall’s concerns to heart because the owners will be a big part of whether the plan is successful.
“A major property owner is a citizen, too,” Bartley said. “I think we need to respect their concerns.”
He said it is more important than ever to work with property owners to achieve the city’s goals because otherwise nothing will get built.
“If we’re going to spend $500,000 on something, I’d like to be able to point to a success,” Bartley said.
Bartley and the three other council members in the majority supported stripping the higher-density zoning called “transit village” from an area south of the mall, leaving that designation for areas closer to the station.
But Councilwoman Susan Gorin called many of the changes Bartley was proposing — including eliminating the designation of certain streets as “complete streets” that called for bike lanes and wider sidewalks — “discouraging.”
“What you’re suggesting is we should throw (the plan) in the recycle bin!” an exasperated Gorin told Bartley.
Others pushed back against what they perceived as Codding Enterprises, the largest private landowner in the area, throwing its weight around.
Barbara Moulton, a member of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, said she was disturbed to see the city’s planning processes “pushed around by a mall owner.”
Housing Advocate David Grabill said he found it ironic that the mall welcomed the station being built nearby on Guerneville Road, but then gripes about proposed locations of streets and bicycle and pedestrian paths needed to effectively get people to and from the station.
“They are making out like bandits,” Grabill said. “They’re already getting rich off their plan, but they are not satisfied.”
By increasing the housing densities on hundreds of properties in a half-mile circle around the station, the city estimates that over 20 years it could add 2,941 new housing units and more than a million square feet of office, retail and industrial space and nearly 6,000 new jobs.
A similar plan around the downtown SMART train station passed in 2007. An environmental impact report found the project would harm air quality and traffic in the area.
Comments from residents ranged from supportive to derisive. Ben Boyce, coordinator of the Accountable Development Coalition, called transit-oriented development “an evolutionary necessity.”
“We have to start becoming smarter about how we build our cities,” Boyce said.
Resident Kirsten Merrihew called the plan a “pie in the sky wish list and not a “solid workable plan.”
Not all the changes to the plan were sought by the mall.
One major one involved the proposed extension of Briggs Avenue north through Jennings and Edwards avenues south of the mall.
The problem is that the city’s Design Review Board just recently approved a 270-unit apartment complex right where that road would go. Because the plan was not yet approved, it couldn’t require the developer to incorporate it in their project.
The council agreed to strip Briggs Avenue from the plan. The council directed staff to return with many of the changes at its Sept. 18 meeting.