Supporters of plans to acquire a 2-mile swath of vacant land once eyed for a highway and transform into an urban park cheered a move by the Santa Rosa City Council supporting their efforts Tuesday.

The city will ask that 50 acres of land once eyed for the extension of Highway 12 over what is now Spring Lake Regional Park instead be set aside for bicycles, pedestrians, parks, gardens, public places, environmental restoration, and limited development.

The council agreed to send a letter to Caltrans requesting the state agency consider "alternative non-motorized uses" for the 300-feet wide strip of unused right-of-way running from Farmers Lane to Summerfield Road in its upcoming review of Highway 12 between Napa and Sonoma counties.

That would set the stage for the agency to declare the property surplus, which would allow it to sell or transfer the land to another agency or non-profit.

The council's action, while a modest one, was nevertheless historic, said Steve Rabinowitsh, a member of the Southeast Greenway Committee.

"For the first time residents of Santa Rosa are going to begin to take back a property that was going to be a highway and make it a piece of land that we can all appreciate and use," Rabinowitsh said.

Dozens of supporters wearing green outfits to the council meeting applauded the decision.

Some noted that the greenway could prove a vital east-west link for bicyclists, while others stressed it could connect neighborhoods to nature, especially the trio of parks - Howarth Park, Spring Lake park and Annadel State Park — just to the east.

"The Southeast Greenway is like a wedge of openness and opportunity penetrating our city and bringing parks and nature closer to our neighborhoods," said Jim McAdler, committee treasurer.

The state acquired the parcels from the 1950s to the 1970s along what was then the city's southern border with an eye toward sending Highway 12 up over what is now Spring Lake. Fierce local opposition stalled the project and it is now considered dead.

"There will be no highway over Spring Lake," Councilman Gary Wysocky said.

The group's mood was tempered somewhat, however, by the realization of just how long it might take to make their vision a reality. Assistant City Manager Jennifer Phillips estimated the study could take two to three years to complete.

Some council members pressed staff representatives to find ways to move the process along.

Councilman Susan Gorin suggested the city needed to remain closely involved with the group and perhaps even apply for grants jointly. She proposed a council sub-committee, but Phillips said that could be a "drain on resources" and City Manager said such a move was premature.

It's unclear whether the state would be looking to sell the land to the highest bidder or could be convinced to turn it over to the city or a non-profit conservancy group.

"Everybody down here thinks it's a great project," Councilman Scott Bartley said. "We're all in the same Catch-22 situation of &‘if we only had the money.'"