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By DANI BURLISON

SANTA ROSA CORRESPONDENT

A narrow ribbon of green stretches over two miles in east Santa Rosa, the remains of a failed plan to extend Highway 12 east from Farmers Lane to Spring Lake. It sits behind chain-link fences in a heavily developed neighborhood, so most people don't even know it exists.

Seen from above, or from the vantage point of neighbors who have taken the time to explore it, the 50-acre parcel resembles an urban park. Which is exactly what the Southwest Greenway Campaign would like it to become.

In early June, the group is sponsoring town-hall meetings designed to create a vision for the land and to find ways to implement the plan. In the meantime, it is showing off the property with preview tours May 17 and June 23.

The open space is roughly bounded by Montgomery High School on the west, Summerfield Road on the east and Hoen Avenue on the south. It was originally covered with orchards, with a few heritage walnut trees still growing near Summerfield. Caltrans acquired the property from the 1950s through '70s, and still owns it.

Members of the Bennett Valley Neighborhood Association got interested in the greenway in 2009, when Caltrans offered to sell it as surplus to the City of Santa Rosa. In the spirit of Annadel State Park preservationists, they decided to take an active role in reclaiming the land for public use rather than watching it fill with housing and retail developments.

"It's very exciting to think of transforming this land and making a resource like this a treasured part of the community," says Steve Rabinowitsh of the Southeast Greenway Campaign.

Early visions of the parcel's future include community gardens and neighborhood parks to running and biking trails, walking paths, playgrounds and gathering places. Its trails could provide the missing link connecting Spring Lake with downtown Santa Rosa.

A core group of about 20, with support from more than 300 individuals and a dozen organizations, is working to make those dreams possible. Among its allies are the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition, Empire Runners, Sonoma County Conservation Action, LandPaths and the Leadership Institute for Ecology and the Economy.

In January, the American Institute of Architects' Sustainable Design Assessment Team awarded the group $15,000 and an estimated $100,000 in donated consulting time to conduct town-hall meetings designed to help define a vision for the greenway. Before the experts leave, they will recommend immediate steps that can be taken to move the plan forward.

In a prepared statement, AIA said the project was selected because of the campaign's desire for an inclusive and collaborative planning process, and the chance to "potentially shape the development of such a large, central piece of land."

Rabinowitsh, who worked on west Santa Rosa's Prince Memorial Greenway project, says that transforming the lot into a public community space will be a process. "There are several steps," he says. "First, we need to acquire the land from Caltrans."

The group continues to meet with city and county officials, nonprofit organizations and other special interest groups to explore possibilities. "We really do want a collaborative process," says Linda Proulx, co-chairwoman of the campaign.

"So often, people mobilize against bad things, things that they don't agree with. We want the community to mobilize to do something proactive. We want to work together in a positive way to create a legacy and have fun doing it."

FIND OUT MORE

To walk the greenway, meet at 5 p.m. May 17 at Montgomery High School. Another tour is planned from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. June 23.

Town-hall meetings to explore options for the property will be held at 7 p.m. June 6 and 8 at the Friedman Events Center, with child care available.

More information is available at 524-9318, LandPaths.org or southeastgreenway.org.

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