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Roseland's Bayer Park plan scaled back due to funding shortfall


Plans for an agricultural-themed park in southwest Santa Rosa are being scaled back because City Hall doesn't have the money to construct several of the buildings once planned for the 6-acre property.

The city has $6.5 million available for the Bayer Neighborhood Park and Garden on West Avenue in Roseland, most of it from state grant funds.

But it will take about twice that much to build everything included in the community's original plan for the park.

The revised layout, approved last week by the Board of Community Services, eliminates nearly all of the new structures planned for the property and still calls for demolishing of the original Bayer family farmhouse and preserving a large barn.

A total of six structures have been stripped from the plan approved by the City Council in 2011, including a community hall, caretaker's residence, two greenhouses, a garden pavilion and an office building for LandPaths, the non-profit that has spent years building community gardens on the property.

Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips told the Board of Community Services said the city doesn't have the funds to build the park's "enhanced features," but doesn't want it to be held up any longer.

"We feel this park is so important and needs to move forward," Phillips told the board, which unanimously recommended the changes to the City Council.

The city has long known it would need additional funds to build all the features residents identified during more than a dozen bilingual public hearings held to help design the park.

The hitch came when city officials proposed using some of its $4.8 million in state grant funding to construct two of the park's more expensive features, the office building and caretakers residence, said Jennifer Tuell, a program coordinator in the Recreation and Parks Department.

"They said, 'We don't fund office buildings,'?" Tuell said of the response from state officials managing the Proposition 84 grant, which is aimed at urban greening.

The clock also was running out on a smaller grant that will fund a "nature discovery zone" at the park. That grant requires construction to begin in 2014, Tuell said.

Facing the shortfall and restrictions on the grant funding, a new series of community meetings was held to revise the park design, and residents overwhelmingly supported moving forward without the buildings at this time, Tuell said.

"We're still going to build an amazing neighborhood park serving an underserved area," Tuell said.

A space will be set aside in the park for a building with offices and classroom space should funds materialize, Tuell said.

Other changes include the elimination of a proposed water fountain, which had a high cost because of regulations requiring water filtration, Tuell said. In place of a community hall the new plan calls for a pavilion with commercial kitchen. A small skate park, which originally was not supported by residents, was added to provide a feature for young people.

The city acquired the property in 2007 at the height of the housing market for $5.25 million. Lacking the funds to build a park immediately, the city partnered with LandPaths to begin building community gardens and running educational programs aimed at helping neighborhood children, many of whom are low income, appreciate agriculture and healthy food.

The organization has spent more than $500,000 on that effort since 2007, said Craig Anderson, the organization's executive director. The work was done with the understanding that LandPaths one day would have access to office space in the park, he said.

"It's a bit of a disappointment given what we've been able to demonstrate with a farm-based park," Anderson said.

The office space would have allowed LandPaths staff to run more programs on the property, he said. Having a caretaker live on the property also made sense from a an oversight perspective, he said.

"As an urban park, it doesn't hurt to have someone on site," Anderson said.

Nevertheless, the group remains committed to its partnership with the city and the vision of creating a place connecting residents to open space and agriculture, he said.

Residents originally expressed strong support for a community center, said Magdalena Ridley, a former LandPaths coordinator involved in project. But when they learned they would have to pay fees to use it, support slipped, she said.

There remains an "element of impatience" in the community over the delays, but many residents remain hopeful that a park they helped design is coming to a neighborhood long in need of one.

"This is a big investment in our community," Ridley said. "It has tons of things that we want and need."

(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@citybeater.)