Massive brick walls remaining from a century-old cannery in Santa Rosa stand ready to enclose a condominium project seven years in the works.
The developer had hoped to begin construction a year ago with the first residents moving in a year from now. But the bellwether for redevelopment in the city's historic Railroad Square area is mired in disputes between the developer and the agency seeking to create a transit hub and build a mixed-use project next door.
The main problem is a 3,900-square-foot section of the old cannery's loading dock. The developer, Santa Rosa Canners, must purchase the chunk of concrete from the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit District. There also is an issue of emergency vehicle access to the condominiums across SMART property.
"We've been debating on this for a couple of years. It's very frustrating," said John Stewart, the San Francisco developer leading the project.
SMART officials said they remain hopeful of settling their differences, despite failing to reach agreement following the latest mediation session this week.
"SMART wants to settle this and we are anxious to find a compromise position," said Lillian Hames, the agency's general manager.
At issue is the wide disparity between a pair of property value appraisals for the section of loading dock. SMART seeks $250,000, but the developer contends it is only worth $10,000.
Stewart, and partner Richard Devine, said SMART's leaders are being unreasonable because the developer already agreed to preserve the two walls and loading dock as architectural links to the building's historic use as a cannery.
They also must spend $160,000 to repair the loading dock as a pedestrian access to the condominiums.
"We're stuck because of the access issue on the loading dock," Stewart said.
SMART isn't fighting for every dollar, but the agency seeks a fair return and that's why the two sides are in mediation, said Mike Kerns, a Sonoma County supervisor and the agency's chairman.
"Does SMART need the money, yeah. That's not really the driving factor here," he said. "We want to work with them. I think if the canners were to make a reasonable offer to SMART, I think SMART would accept that."
Kerns is optimistic about resolving the emergency vehicle access dispute. "I think we can work that out."
SMART seeks a $750,000 fee from the developer to use SMART-owned land for emergency access to the building.
The developer contends the land can't be built on and there should be no fee charged. Further, the developer has agreed to provide an easement across its property linking the SMART site to Santa Rosa Creek.
The $1 million combined cost for the section of loading dock and the emergency access would add to the $5 million the developer has spent on land, planning and other costs so far, Devine said.
"We've spent a significant amount of money with the assumption that we would have a cooperative and mutually beneficial resolution," he said.
The cannery condominium project also is being delayed by the absence of an approved master plan for the five-acre SMART site -- the centerpiece to the Railroad Square redevelopment effort.
The development team SMART chose a year ago to propose a project mixing residential units and commercial spaces has revised its plans several times and the latest proposal offers the most significant changes. SMART's board next week will review the proposal to remove more than half of the residential units and replace them with office space and a parking garage.