Supporters of a plan to create a greenway across southeast Santa Rosa are buoyed by a report suggesting the state is willing to part with the 2-mile ribbon of land that had been designated for extending Highway 12.

The draft report on the future of the Highway 12 corridor clearly states that the State Department of Transportation has no plans to extend the highway east of Farmers Lane over Spring Lake and therefore doesn't need the 50 acres long set aside for the project.

"It's a really historic moment," said Steve Rabinowitsh, former city councilman and co-chairman of the Southeast Greenway Campaign, "because it confirms the goal of the community that that parcel should be a connective asset and not a highway."

The report outlines long-range planning issues facing the stretch of highway between Sebastopol and Sonoma. It must be approved by the California Transportation Commission, and a decision of what to do with the land could be months or years away.

But supporters nevertheless were encouraged by the report language, which bluntly states the extension "will not happen."

"We're thrilled the state has finally said this is not going to be a freeway," said Linda Proulx, co-chairwoman of the campaign.

The conclusion is "not earth-shattering," she said. The creation of Spring Lake Regional Park in the 1960s energized nature lovers who fiercely opposed routing the highway through the park. In the 1990s, the city removed the highway extension from its General Plan, effectively codifying the city's opposition to the project.

But the state's formal acknowledgment that the project is dead is crucial because it allows Caltrans to declare the property surplus and transfer it for other uses, Proulx said.

"Now we feel like we can move forward," she said. "This is going to light a little bit of fire under everyone."

The 300-foot-wide strip of open space runs from Farmer's Lane, past Montgomery High School, crosses Yulupa Avenue and Summerfield Road before it turns northeast and climbs the hill to the edge of Spring Lake Regional Park.

In 2010, the greenway campaign organized a community outreach effort to help create a sustainable design for the greenway. The result envisions a multi-use trail network, restored native vegetation and orchards, community gardens, some limited retail development and a gathering space at the intersection with Yulupa Avenue, and reconfiguration of the Farmers Lane intersection.

The report notes that the state's responsibility "once the land is declared excess" is to "sell it at the highest possible value."

But it's unclear how that process will unfold or how the value will be defined. Rabinowitsh said the group's plan is to work with the city and state on a process by which the property could be transferred to local control before it could be sold to the highest bidder.

"We hope that there may be other creative solutions," Rabinowitsh said.

The report notes that the campaign has proposed turning the land into a "nonmotorized transportation corridor." It also identifies housing, a wildlife corridor and an "urban parkway road" as other alternatives.

How "highest possible value" is defined could be key to the campaign's success, Proulx said.

Creating dedicated bicycle and pedestrian paths linking Spring Lake and Annadel State Park on the east side with the Prince Memorial Greenway and trail west of the city could help get people out of their cars, supporting the state's greenhouse gas reduction goals, Proulx said.

"There are ways to create value that aren't necessarily dollar bills," she said.

The group is sensitive to the city's budget situation and knows that acquiring, building and maintaining 50 acres of park land will be a challenge. But the chance to preserve such a large swath of green space in the city while improving non-motorized transportation is too important to let pass, she said.

"It's actually a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and if we don't take it and make the long-term investment, it will be lost," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer

Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat

.com. OnTwitter@citybeater.

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