A neglected east Petaluma farmhouse built by Danish immigrants in 1906 will be rehabilitated and transformed into the centerpiece of a rental-home subdivision being built by Santa Rosa developer Hugh Futrell.

The city's planning commission has approved the 34-unit North McDowell Commons project and recommended the city council designate the house a local landmark.

Futrell said he hopes to begin construction this summer on eight detached single-family homes and 13 two- and three-bedroom duplexes that will surround the two-story Hansen House in the middle.

Long-term plans call for the Hansen House to be sold to an owner-occupant who will maintain the historical character of the structure, Futrell said. His company intends to own and maintain the rest of the subdivision.

Upon moving to Petaluma after the turn of the century, Danish immigrants Hans and Anna Hansen built a modest farmhouse for their family on a quiet rural road in an area that was then the outskirts of Petaluma. Today, the home sits enclosed in chain link on North McDowell Boulevard, incongruously surrounded by newer houses, a mobile home park and offices.

For nearly 30 years, the 23-acre Hansen property was a bustling chicken ranch, and the family also grew hay and wheat. It was a focal point for local Danish immigrants, hosting weddings, parties and meetings of the Danish Sisterhood, which Anna Hansen helped start.

During haying season, a crowd would help cut and pile the hay into stacks, and the family would cook abelskivers, traditional Danish stuffed pancakes, for the workers.

The house changed hands several times after the Hansen family sold it in 1934, and a Santa Rosa developer, Cobblestone Homes, sought permission to demolish it after a suspicious fire in 2003.

Public opposition to destroying the house stalled the proposal in 2004.

For the past decade, the future of the site — now just two acres — has been uncertain. The house has weathered and is mostly boarded up. Previous owners installed a picture window and other historically inaccurate features.

When his company purchased the bank-owned property, Futrell said it was clear that the house needed to be restored in its existing location for any project to be welcomed. There has been no opposition to his plan.

"This is a family rental project targeted for moderate-income households," he said. "There is an intense demand for first-rate housing that is as much like detached-ownership housing as possible."

The other houses will share architectural elements with the Hansen House<NO1><NO>.

Preservationists applauded the planning commission's designation of the house as a local landmark. The council is expected to affirm the decision.

Futrell said construction is anticipated to take a year. The homes will rent for about $2,000 a month.

Read all of the PD's fire coverage here