Amy’s Kitchen Petaluma riverfront headquarters plans scuttled
A massive mixed-use development near the heart of downtown Petaluma is in flux after Amy’s Kitchen, the centerpiece of the 40-acre development, walked back plans to construct its corporate headquarters there.
The reason for the decision, communicated to city leaders late last month, wasn’t immediately clear, but it has clouded the timeline for one of the city’s largest development projects - the Scannel Mixed Use Development.
Proposed in 2020, the Scannell Mixed Use Development was once cast as a catalyst for revolutionizing the future of residential and commercial land use near the city’s riverfront.
As Petaluma looks to amend its General Plan, city planning commissioners and the public on Tuesday addressed concerns on the project as its backers look to complete the project design.
In an informational hearing Tuesday night at a planning commission meeting, developers and city planners gathered feedback on the two-phase project located on 40 acres of land at 500 Hopper St. Although there is no set timeline for the project, there was still cautious optimism despite recent developments.
“This is an example of a project where we really have an opportunity to decide what we want on that site, how we want this to impact our community, and to take the land seriously,” said planning commissioner Blake Hooper in a Wednesday morning phone interview. “It’s a valuable piece of property. We really have to be careful and consider what we want for future generations.”
Located just south of the COTS Mary Isaak Center, the now-vacant lot falls north of the McNear Channel and the Petaluma River, with the Riverfront Mixed-Use Development adjacent to the east and the Shamrock concrete production facility to the west.
Site plans originally reserved 147,300 square feet of the space to be headquarters for Petaluma-based food maker Amy’s Kitchen, which included a commercial office space, a test kitchen and a 400-space parking garage, which could have added to traffic woes downtown.
But in late January, city officials were notified that Amy’s Kitchen would no longer be incorporated in the plans, leaving at least one-quarter of the 40-acre development project in flux.
The move comes amid a flurry of activity, and accusations, for the longtime Petaluma business.
In December, the vegetarian food vendor sold three of its production facilities in Santa Rosa, Oregon and Idaho to New York-based real estate investment trust W.P. Carey Inc. for $144 million. Amy’s Kitchen then leased the buildings back for 30 years in the deal.
More recently, the business received widespread criticism after a complaint was filed Jan. 20 by five employees at its Santa Rosa facility who claimed they sustained injuries due to poor work conditions.
Hooper said staff was not given details on why Amy’s is no longer involved in the downtown development. While it appears the initial commercial building plans remain in place, a replacement tenant has not yet been determined. Hooper said this could be worrisome since the pandemic has already left a number of city buildings empty after lost business.
Representatives with Amy’s Kitchen could not immediately be reached for comment.
Concerns over project details loomed over Tuesday’s meeting. Petaluma-based architect William Wolpert worried about the project’s location and accessibility.
“I cannot ignore the fact that this development is being built around a sewage treatment plant,” Wolpert said in a letter to city officials prior to the meeting. “And, in spite of all the river enhancement being proposed, there is not actually any access to the river for any of the residents. If you wanted to launch a kayak, you need to drive somewhere else.”
Veronica Olsen, another Petaluma resident, mirrored those statements, adding concern that the project would make way for more vehicle traffic and disintegrate the presence of the community’s natural surroundings.
“It feels like Cinderella’s step sister is trying on the slipper, and it just doesn’t fit,” Olsen said in a letter to the city.
Roughly 3.5 acres of the site would also be used for public park space, and a multi-use trail would be installed along the river. The project would further entail 195 single-family homes and up to 80 affordable apartment units on the eastern part of the site.
“There’s still a lot of concern that these are still going to be homes that are incredibly expensive and largely taken up by people from out of the area,” Hooper said, characterizing what he heard at Tuesday’s meeting.
The site was formerly occupied by the Pomeroy cement plant, but all concrete pads and foundations from the prior on-site activities have been demolished to prepare for Scannell’s development plans.
The Scannell project would require a General Plan amendment and Specific Plan Amendment to change the land use designation of the property from “River Dependent Industrial” to “Mixed Use,” and the property would need to be rezoned.
Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5208.