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Work begins on entryway to Coffey Park neighborhood at crossroads with special meaning

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For nearly three decades, Bill Northcroft has commuted from Coffey Park to Novato. After battling his way north each evening on Highway 101, the quaint, wooden Coffey Park sign at the northwest corner of Hopper Avenue and Coffey Lane was a welcome sight for him. “It meant I was home,” he said.

That welcoming tableau is now undergoing a major upgrade. Work began Wednesday on a project known as the Entryway. Spearheaded by Northcroft, the vice president of neighborhood group Coffey Strong, and located at the same crossroads — Hopper Avenue and Coffey Lane — it will be a dramatic improvement befitting an intersection with special significance since the fire, a place where Coffey Park residents have gathered to show their resolve and celebrate their progress.

Juan Barron of PJM Landscape whacked weeds and pulled up old landscaping fabric Wednesday, before loading it onto his truck.

“After this, we’re going to put in all new landscaping and trees,” Barron said, motioning to both sides of Hopper. As he did, it was possible to envision what the completed Entryway will look like, with pedestrian walkways, trees and drought-tolerant plants. The focus of the project will be five flowering cherry trees, planted to commemorate the individuals in Coffey Park who died in the fire.

This intersection entering Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park has taken on a “symbolic significance,” said Pamela Van Halsema, a Coffey Strong board member. This same turf, she said, is where Ronnie Duvall first hung strands of Christmas lights in the immediate aftermath of the fire. It was where Ron Redmon, founder of a charity called Heart to Heart, planted hundreds of daffodils, which bloomed spectacularly the spring after the flames torched the neighborhood.

It was the site of last October’s one-year fire remembrance ceremony attended by some 500 people.

The Entryway, which won’t be finished for months, was made possible by a $25,000 grant from the United Way of the Wine Country. The Santa Rosa-based Firma Design Group, led by landscape designer Sabrina Swanson-Schneckloth, donated its services to make the project a reality. The Christian Family Fellowship church, just east of the Entryway on Hopper, kicked in $6,000.

Building materials supplier Northgate Ready Mix donated the concrete for the new-and-improved intersection which, when finished, will signal to Northcroft and hundreds of others moving back into the neighborhood that, at long last, they are home.

You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at 707-521-5214 or austin.murphy@pressdemocrat.com.

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