Developer says revision only will work if SMART is willing to sell property

Dreams of a development like San Francisco's Ferry Building in Santa Rosa's Railroad Square may hinge on whether the public agency that owns the land is willing to sell.

Michael Dieden of Creative Housing Associates, the team picked a year ago to develop 5½ acres adjacent to the Santa Rosa depot, said acquiring the land is vital to securing financing for the project.

After briefly threatening to scrap the project entirely amid criticism from affordable housing advocates and Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, Dieden has a new plan that he says will address many of their concerns.

The plan, to be unveiled today, adds 40 affordable housing units to the first construction phase. It still includes a market hall and food and wine center, a restaurant, retail space and office space.

Dieden's plan got kudos from some SMART board members, but he said it only will work if the property is sold to Creative Housing Associates.

In the current economic environment, he said owning the land would make it "much easier for investors and lenders to feel secure about the project."

SMART has guarded its ownership of the Railroad Square property, calling it the crown jewel in the agency's as-yet-unsuccessful plans to reintroduce passenger rail service between Cloverdale and Larkspur.

SMART balked two years ago when the city of Santa Rosa pressed to become the lead developer of the site. The SMART site is a key piece of a downtown Santa Rosa development blueprint that goes to the Planning Commission tonight.

But in the year since Creative Housing was tapped to develop the property, expectations about what can be delivered have crumbled.

Santa Rosa Junior College scrapped plans to include its culinary arts program and Dieden asked to drop more than half the housing and to add an above-ground parking garage.

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