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Transit-oriented plan for Petaluma delayed over SMART comments

An ambitious transit-oriented planning model for Petaluma's downtown and river area will return to the City Council with modifications after concerns were raised on several fronts late Monday night.

After lengthy discussion, council members asked the planning staff to investigate questions about SMART's intentions for land it owns that is central to the plan's "connectivity" from the river and downtown to SMART's planned commuter rail depot.

SMART officials created a wrinkle in the otherwise well-received plan with comments asserting their right to build something other than a rail depot on land owned by the rail authority that leads toward the Petaluma River and downtown.

"We just want the city to know that SMART does have the right to do something different here – not to say that it would, but it has that right," SMART planning manager John Nemeth told the council.

"The city should take that into account in its thinking about the plan. … There always remains the possibility that that property might not be available to the city."

The land in question would contain a walkable street that would funnel train riders to and from downtown Petaluma.

Councilwoman Kathy Miller said SMART's comments are troublesome.

"We were supposed to get a second SMART station in Petaluma and they've yanked that away from us for a while," she said. "So I don't really trust them necessarily to do what is best for ridership at this point."

Also, council members were unanimous in trying to seek a compromise to proposed zoning changes that would prevent the owner of the only gas station on Petaluma Boulevard South from tearing down an aging carwash on the property and making improvements to his minimart.

City staff, community members and consultants spent two years creating a long-term planning model for the area surrounding the train depot, which some expect to blossom when the SMART commuter train begins running, potentially by 2016.

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