Development of Santa Rosa’s Southeast Greenway one step closer after state approval

State officials have signed off on releasing a 2-mile strip of state-owned land in east Santa Rosa, which will pave the way for the city to purchase and develop the land into park space.|

California officials have signed off on releasing a 2-mile strip of state-owned land in east Santa Rosa that neighbors have long envisioned transforming into the city’s very own Central Park.

The latest development paves the way for Santa Rosa to purchase the land, once meant to extend Highway 12 from Farmers Lane through Spring Lake Regional Park, and begin developing the site into parkland.

“It’s a big milestone for us,” said Thea Hensel, co-chair of the grassroots coalition that has spearheaded efforts to develop the land, known as the Southeast Greenway.

“I feel like there is an end date in site for the acquisition and now we get to do the fun stuff which is the planning,” she said.

Still, finalizing the sale and developing the recreation space is months or years away.

The California Department of Transportation, Department of General Services and Housing and Community Development Department last week approved transferring 47 acres of the 57-acre site to the city, Sen. Mike McGuire, who helped negotiate the release of the land, announced Wednesday.

The other 10 acres will be set aside for housing and sold and developed separately.

“With this agreement now hammered out, the Southeast Greenway will become an urban recreational wonderland that will enhance the lives of tens of thousands of Santa Rosa families and residents for decades to come,” McGuire said in a statement.

Area residents, including Hensel, banded together in 2009 under the banner of the Southeast Greenway Campaign with the idea of preserving the 57-acre green space for a linear park.

Caltrans began acquiring property along the nearly 2-mile strip in the 1950s with the intention of eventually extending Highway 12.

After the state in 2014 ditched its plans for the highway extension, the resident coalition partnered with Sonoma Land Trust, the city of Santa Rosa, Sonoma County Regional Parks and other regional agencies to acquire the land, develop the park and manage the space.

Proponents envision a mix of passive and active recreation along the greenway with picnic tables, ball fields or courts and other park amenities on the flat land. The easternmost end of the property would be left largely as natural open space.

The project could include improved trail heads, habitat restoration and a walking and bike path.

About 10 acres between Farmers Lane and Cypress Way and between Janet Way and Yulupa Avenue have been designated for housing and mixed-use development.

Officials spent the past few years surveying the land and mapping out the more than 50 parcels that make up the property, plus entitlements on the site, road and creek crossings and a pipe owned by Sonoma Water that crosses beneath a portion of the greenway.

Caltrans in late 2022 approved the tentative survey map, an important step in acquiring the land because it officially defines what is park acreage and developable land. The agency also agreed to sell the parkland and commercial land separately.

That map and the sale of the land had to be approved by the Department of General Services and state housing officials.

With last week’s approval, proponents can now appraise the land, draft a purchase agreement and Santa Rosa can begin sale negotiations with Caltrans.

Proponents will also need to complete financing for the purchase and hammer out management and use agreements between the partners.

Early estimates put the cost of the parkland at around $2 million, which will be paid for through grants and donations. The purchase must be completed before October 2024 because of timing constraints tied to funds allocated to the project.

McGuire’s office said the partners had set aside just over $2 million for the project so far.

The city will gather public input on how the land will be developed once the sale is completed.

“The Southeast Greenway is one of the top issues for my neighbors and our community,” said Santa Rosa Council member Mark Stapp, whose District 2 includes parts of the greenway. “Getting this deal done with the state will finally allow the city to move forward on this transformational vision.”

McGuire said after years of effort by all the groups involved the project was closer to becoming a reality.

“I’m excited to partner with the City Council, neighbors and the Greenway Partners to transform this property into a beautiful urban park and housing for working families and seniors,” he said.

Hensel said the project couldn’t have reached this stage without the help of McGuire, an early supporter of the project, who helped proponents navigate the complicated state approval process.

Much of the work the last few years has happened quietly behind the scenes but was necessary to get to this next step of finalizing the purchase, she said.

Eamon O’Byrne, executive director of the nonprofit Sonoma Land Trust, said the organization was thrilled to reach this step.

Though a sale agreement hasn’t yet been inked, O’Byrne said the Land Trust plans to soon begin outreach efforts in the community to create a vision for the site that is inclusive of all park users.

That could include working with local schools on crafting designs for playgrounds and outdoor classrooms, and it should “amplify” the city’s own planning process, he said.

“The greenway should be the great meeting place for all of Santa Rosa’s communities,” he said. “We can only do that if we’ve gotten everybody to see this space as belonging to the entire community and making sure everybody has a say in the planning and the outcome.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

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