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Even if you don’t live in Petaluma, chances are you’re familiar with the old Scott Ranch property, which is located at the corner of D and Windsor streets as you head out of town toward Point Reyes. This land provides a glimpse into the North Bay’s history, a window into a time when cows were more common than cars and houses were tucked between rolling hills. With its iconic red barns and beautiful vistas, this property is a natural treasure just inside the city limits.

Kelly Creek also flows through the property, and the area around the creek provides rare high-quality habitat for the imperiled California red-legged frog and other struggling native species. This is not just another patch of land ripe for development. Preserving this land for public use and environmental benefits should be a priority for all Sonoma County residents.

Davidon Homes purchased the property more than a decade ago. The developer first proposed to cram 93 homes onto the 58-acre lot. Davidon’s most recent proposal scaled down its plans to 66 homes. But that’s still too many homes for this sensitive site.

Thankfully, the Petaluma City Council agreed that this property should not be overbuilt. At a recent meeting, the council rejected a draft environmental impact report for the project. The council asked that the report be revised and recirculated for public comment with special attention given to the council’s preferred, environmentally superior alternative, limited to 28 residential lots.

The property’s land-use designation allows Petaluma to set the number of buildable lots on the site within a range of as many as 110 to a minimum of 26 houses. Twenty-eight buildable lots should be within Davidon’s reasonable expectation of economic return on this land.

There is significant community interest in protecting the most sensitive parts of the property and a willingness to raise the money to make that happen. Four million dollars has already been raised toward that effort.

Even within the 28 lots that Petaluma’s general plan would allow to be built, community members have identified five lots that would conflict with preservation of the scenic, natural and historic character of this gateway location.

The hope is that the City Council will continue to set the right tone for negotiations, encouraging Davidon to become a willing seller of these specific lots for their fair market value. The Kelly Creek Protection Project has already assembled $3 million in charitable funds for park acquisition at this site. That should be more than enough to compensate Davidon for these five lots — or even more.

This property abuts Helen Putnam Regional Park, which is used regularly by residents from throughout Sonoma County. With this more limited development, the park could be extended down to D Street and Windsor, with a first-class trailhead and recreational and educational amenities for public benefit.

The Sonoma Land Trust already holds a $1 million grant that could be used to pay for new trails, rehabilitation of the red barns, parking lots, restrooms and other public amenities. These funds would also cover a portion of ongoing maintenance required for the expanded park. Once acquired, the property could be transferred to the Sonoma County Regional Parks System.

In an ideal world, Sonoma County residents could come together to purchase the entire property from Davidon Homes. But even if that never comes to fruition, our community has a rare opportunity to preserve most of this very special property. And this opportunity is simply too good to pass up. Our elected officials should hold the line and support community priorities instead of those of an out-of-town developer.

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