Petaluma waterfront development plan unveiled

A plan two years in the making envisions the area surrounding Petaluma's rail depot as “a series of theatrical events” between downtown and the planned SMART commuter train station.

Unveiled recently before the city's Planning Commission, the draft report has been in the works since early 2011 and pulls together ideas and suggestions from a range of planning, transportation and economic experts, along with a committee of community members.

The plan is sweeping, forecasting tree-lined public spaces, a mix of uses and architectural styles and open walkways funneling transit riders to and from downtown, much of the activity oriented toward a sparkling blue Petaluma River.

Putting aside the fact that the river, a tidal slough, is most definitely not blue, the plan was met with enthusiasm from city planners, who for the most part welcomed it as a long-term planning model for responsible growth within the city's core.

The plan, as described by Dan Parolek, a principal with consultants Opticos Design of Berkeley, is meant to “engage the waterfront with a vibrant, urban new neighborhood and also visually connect back from the river to the station area very clearly and specifically.”

An outdoor public amphitheater would be a focal point, facing the turning basin off Weller Street behind River Plaza, formerly Golden Eagle shopping center. It could be used for musical or theatrical performances.

Although he called the plan “beautiful,” Planning Commissioner Ray Johnson said it may be overly ambitious.

“It's a pipe dream,” he said. “What have we got that we can put our arms around? A lot of pretty pictures and a very blue river.”

But other commissioners lauded the plan's foresight and imagination.

“This is a dream,” agreed Commissioner Bill Wolpert. “But what is a dream? It's a vision. Without a vision, I think you get bad development, and there's plenty of examples of that. When we have someone who is interested in developing this valuable property in the center of our unique community, we can say, 'That's great. Here's our vision, here's what we're looking for.'”

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