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Plans to transform a vacant lot near the center of Graton into new housing and a long-awaited community park are advancing, with approvals granted by Sonoma County supervisors paving the way for the final groundwork to occur.

Local developer Orrin Thiessen said he’s hoping to start construction this fall, though the timing depends on county approval of engineering plans for site improvements including underground utilities, he said.

The 1.4-acre Green Valley Village is likely to have a profound visual impact on a rural town that already bears Thiessen’s mark. His renovation of a half-dozen or so buildings along Graton Road in the 1990s — using architectural details from the turn of the 20th century — breathed new life into the small business district.

Thiessen’s new project is just half a block away, south of a gravel alley that runs behind Underwood Bar and Bistro, a thriving restaurant that benefited from his touch. The residential development is bounded on the other three sides by Bowen, Shirley and Edison streets.

Plans for the project include 10 densely positioned, two-story homes with free-standing garages, six of them topped by upstairs apartments. Two of the 10 residential sites will be built with sweat equity under contract with Habitat for Humanity.

In addition, Thiessen intends to sell half an acre edged by a seasonal creek along Shirley Street to a community nonprofit group raising funds for a town park and community garden. That planned open space would replace a larger area of garden plots that residents have used for several years and will have to give up when construction of Green Valley Village begins.

In authorizing permits and land-use designations for the venture by unanimous vote last Tuesday, county supervisors lauded the project for having several features deemed beneficial to the west county community. They included its provision of affordable housing units and improved land for the park, as well as dedication of a 0.07-acre corner parcel and two new water tanks for the Downtown Graton Mutual Water Company, which already maintains a well and storage on the site. Thiessen also is funding new curbs, gutters and sidewalks along portions of Bowen and Edison streets.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Efren Carrillo said he was especially gratified to see the deal Thiessen had struck with Habitat for Humanity.

He will sell two construction-ready residential sites for $80,000, an estimated $200,000 below market value, county planners said.

“Having been raised in a Habitat for Humanity home, I know that this will have a great impact,” Carrillo said.

“Any time there is a project with multiple benefits, it’s something that we should celebrate,” he said.

Reception among residents is somewhat varied, however, according to several locals.

Among them are John Roehl, an Edison Street resident who voiced apprehension about the new development directly opposite his home.

He is especially concerned about longterm maintenance of the park.

“My whole wealth, whatever that is, is tied up in my house, and across the street from me is going to be a bunch of housing that I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” Roehl said, adding that several neighbors feel the same way.

Randi Francis, who also lives within a couple of blocks of the project, said the community outlook probably leaned toward the positive, given Thiessen’s commitment to green, sustainable building design and the park support.

Thiessen plans to subsidize the park through more than $30,000 in improvements before selling it to the Graton Green Group, a nonprofit in search of a park for most of the past decade. The purchase price is about $164,000, Thiessen said.

The organization has applied to the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District for a $104,000 grant to go toward the purchase of the land, and has raised $55,000 toward the $80,000 in cash needed to help match the grant, along with in-kind donations, the organization’s vice president, Dewey Watson, said.

Donations include two contributions of $15,000 and $5,000 from anonymous individuals, as well as $5,000 recently given by Graton-based Purple Wine & Spirits, according to HolLynn D’Lil, the group’s secretary.

The remainder has been raised through sales of commemorative bricks and individual, grass-roots donations, she said.

Watson said the community is optimistic about the county grant.

“There is no park in Graton, and there’s a community need,” he said. “So I think we have checked all the right boxes and said all the right things on the grant application.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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