New Petaluma hotel proposed - with rooftop farm animals

A boutique hotel proposed for downtown Petaluma has local tongues wagging, particularly the "agritourism" component that could include live animals in a rooftop garden.

Petaluma resident Ross Jones, an architect, is developing the site at Petaluma Boulevard and B Street, the former location of a Chevron gas station.

He currently is taking the input of local residents about his plan for the four-story, 42-room eco-friendly agritourism lodge to be called To: Hotel Petaluma.

"We are tailoring to the strengths of Petaluma," he said, primarily by highlighting the city's historical dependence on agriculture and the current draw of eco-tourism.

Jones said that about 18 months ago he went to one of the city's planning committees with a different proposal for the lot, which his family has owned since 1963.

But the first idea of condominiums above retail stores didn't pan out, and a second idea for senior housing didn't either, so Jones began thinking of more creative uses for the premier location — on the main drag, just steps from the Theater District, the river and downtown nightlife.

He said he is borrowing a page from travel writer Rick Steves and his "Europe Through the Back Door" model, which eschews generic, pre-packaged travel experiences.

"The more you spend on a hotel, the less you see of the city or country you're in," Jones said of Steves' philosophy.

"So the concept grew. What is important and special about Petaluma? We can't propose to do everything. In fact, it would be the wrong thing to do that," he said.

"We don't have a restaurant because there are already fine restaurants that we don't need to cannibalize. We don't have a spa because there are already spas around that we don't need to cannibalize."

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