The dream of having a large urban park within walking distance of Sonoma's downtown received a significant boost Monday night.

The Sonoma City Council voted unanimously to take conditional ownership of the 98-acre Montini Preserve, which forms much of the city's backdrop and is historically significant because it was part of the foothills purchased in 1850 by Gen. Mariano Vallejo.

"This is truly a remarkable opportunity for the city to have this kind of land available with access from our downtown," Councilman Steve Barbose said.

Sonoma County's Open Space District purchased the Montini Preserve and an adjacent 59-acre conservation easement in 2005 for $13.9 million, including a $1.15 million contribution from the City of Sonoma.

State parks initially planned to take over the preserve. But when those plans fell through amid the state's budget crisis, Sonoma city leaders began weighing whether to acquire the property.

The city would not have to pay for the property, but it it would have to pick up the costs for maintaining it.

Before it finalizes the takeover, the city must determine whether it can afford the maintenance costs. Who will be able to access the property is another issue the council will consider.

Dog owners in particular are salivating at the prospect of having another place in Sonoma to take their pets.

Bob Edwards, president of Sonoma Valley Dog Owners and Guardians, said his only concern with the council's action Monday night was that it not preclude a discussion down the road about whether dogs will be allowed on the property.

David Goodison, the city's planning director, said it would not.

He said a conversation easement would remain in place with the property's transfer to the city but a management plan could be amended to include access for dogs or for other uses.

The Sonoma Ecology Center has submitted a proposal to the city to do maintenance work on the property for as much as $15,000 annually, money that would come from the city's general fund.

That does not include $10,000 in initial start-up costs related to environmental review.

There are also plans to install nearly two miles of hiking paths on the preserve. Construction on those trails is slated to begin in spring 2012.