An outdoor amphitheater, a civic center and an eye-catching clock tower are all part of a master plan for the half-mile area surrounding the downtown Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit station passed unanimously by the Planning Commission Tuesday evening.

The plan features development of the Petaluma River waterfront from the pedestrian crossing bridge to the proposed station on Lakeville and East Washington Streets. Features like new buildings, open spaces, additional streets, parks, and walkways leading from the river up to the station were all a part of the plan that has been two years in the making.

According to Dan Parolek from Opticos Design, the lead consultant on the project, the overall development of the area surrounding the station could take as long as 20 to 25 years to complete — something he said is not a bad thing. "Key pieces of the project will be happening in the next few years," said Parolek. "But instead of having a project pop up all at once and become sterile, the long-term nature of this project will allow it to reflect the uniqueness of the city over time."

While all the Planning Commissioners appreciated the work and vision of the proposed master plan, some saw the lack of funding to complete the project as a major obstacle.

"It's beautiful, but it's a pipe-dream," said Commission Ray Johnson. "How do we pay for it? How do we put streets in? I don't see anything I can put my arms around, except that it's a great plan."

But City Senior Planner Scott Duiven pointed out that Petaluma's downtown Theatre District and Downtown River Apartments stemmed from similar beginnings, with a master plan that had no financing at the time plans were finalized.

"These things do happen when you have that plan and have that vision," Duiven said. "This is going to hinge on people wanting to come here and build here. It's not necessarily a pipe-dream, but we will be dreaming about it for a little while before it happens."

City staff determined that an environmental impact report was not required for the master plan since its contents were consistent with the Central Petaluma Specifc Plan and general plan, both of which already underwent costly reviews. Staff did note that specific projects within the larger plan may require their own environmental review processes.

While the overall sentiment was positive towards the plans, several areas of concern were raised — in particular, uncertainty over Petaluma's second train station at Corona Road and North McDowell Boulevard. When SMART first began plans for the rail line through Petaluma, two stations were proposed: the downtown site that is moving forward as planned, and a second North Petaluma station that has been put on hold indefinitely due to a lack of SMART funds to purchase the property.

While the city still hopes to see a second station at the proposed site, the property was recently taken into foreclosure and is being aggressively marketed by its current owners, a group called Sonoma Equity Lending. Jeff Mayne, Sonoma Equity Lending president, said this week that the group has had several interested parties and that a few are in the process of studying the feasibility of developing the site.

Sonoma Equity Lending gave SMART an opportunity to purchase the property at what Mayne called "well-below market value" when they first took over the property in January. SMART declined, saying it could not afford to make the land purchase, but added that it is still interested in the property.

Part of the reason a north Petaluma site is so crucial is the lack of available parking at the downtown station. SMART had previously argued that parking at the downtown station would not be required due to the abundance of parking that would be available at the Corona Road station. Now that the second station has been put on hold indefinitely, many remain concerned.

Despite concerns, the commission overall remained pleased with the master plan, SMART zoning code updates and decision to skip a full environmental impact review process. The commission voted unanimously to recommend to the City Council to approve all three documents, with Alicia Kae Herries and Jennifer Pierre absent.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)