Graton nears construction on its first public park

Graton-area residents turned out Sunday to celebrate and renew their drive for a long-planned park for the community of 2,000 people, which currently has no green space.

The wait for their first public park won’t be much longer.

Developer Orrin Theissen said Sunday he expects the sale of the 0.6-acre parcel will be finalized within the next two weeks. The Graton Green Group, a local nonprofit group, is purchasing from Theissen for about $200,000 the lot just south of the town’s business district to turn it into a park.

“We thought we would have this by now,” said HolLynn D’Lil, president of the group.

Plans for the public park were first discussed in 2007. “We are shooting for opening this spring,” she said.

The park’s green space will be lined by native trees, such as big-leaf maples and western hazelnut. A 4-foot-wide concrete pathway will take visitors from one end to the other.

Features will include chess tables and benches made by local artists. The east entrance near Edison Street will have a labyrinth garden, while the entrance at Bowen Street will have a concrete stage right in front of the abandoned water tower to host community concerts.

The park will be a milestone for the town, which still retains some of its apple orchards that once provided the economic backbone for the area until it gave way to the more profitable vineyards. Graton now is mostly noted as a key halfway stop on the West County Regional Trail and for such highly rated restaurants as Willow Wood Market Cafe and Underwood Bar and Bistro.

It’s also home to the county’s first hiring hall aimed at providing day laborers better worker protections - Graton Day Labor Center, which hosted Sunday’s celebration that attracted nearly 200 people.

“It means we have a place to gather for free. It means a place to have picnics and birthday parties,” D’Lil said.

However, she added, dogs will not be allowed at the park given the limited space to roam.

Sebastopol resident Salli Rasberry, who attended the celebration, said parks can add to the vibrancy of a community. For example, she said, Sebastopol’s Ives Park brings people throughout the county together for its summer Peacetown concert series and various festivals. That also has occurred at Santa Rosa’s reunified Old Courthouse Square.

“I’m thrilled,” Rasberry said. “I’m pleased at long last they have a place where they can go, and they can promenade together and they can party together. They can have sad things together if they need to.”

Theissen is developing the other portion of the lot with 10 densely packed houses, many of them featuring granny units that can only be used rented out. Two of the homes of the proposed Green Valley Village will be built and sold by Habitat for Humanity below the market rate.

Thiessen is bullish the Graton housing and park project could serve as a model for Sonoma County, particularly in Santa Rosa. He said it’s harder to build these types of green developments in smaller communities because they have greater zoning restrictions.

“We need new concepts, and this is a new concept,” Thiessen said.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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