Questions & Answers
What has to happen to protect Scott Ranch from development?
There are two options for purchasing this property from the developer. Davidon Homes, which currently owns the property, is willing to sell the entire property for $11 million or to sell the most environmentally sensitive 44 acres of the land for $4.1 million. This part of the property is also the most viable portion of the land to protect as open space for public enjoyment. To date, we have completed our initial escrow payment of $4.1 million with a combination of public donations and a bridge loan. We have until December 1, 2018 to increase that total to $11 million for the full buy-out. Before Davidon transfers title to us for the 44 acres of parkland, our agreement requires approval from the Petaluma City Council on Davidon’s plans to develop 28 homes on the north side of the property.
The Sonoma County Regional Parks District wants to expand Helen Putnam Regional Park to include the largest and most environmentally valuable open space within Scott Ranch, provided independent funds are available to help construct park improvements – including building trails and providing parking and restroom facilities. The Sonoma Land Trust currently holds $1 million that could be used to pay for such improvements.
Where is the money coming from?
Earth Island Institute’s Kelly Creek Protection Project has received $4.1 million to date in its Putnam Park Extension Fund to purchase most (44 acres) of the Davidon land. A portion of these funds were contributed in the form of a bridge loan that enabled KCPP to meet the September 1 fundraising deadline in its purchase agreement with Davidon while awaiting the results of a matching grant application with the Sonoma County Ag + Open Space District. KCPP has been recommended for an $800,000 matching grant from this program, which will repay the bridge loan after approval by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in November and District documentation is completed.
KCPP is actively working to raise an additional $6.9 million by December 1 in order to purchase the property outright from Davidon Homes, which would ensure that no homes would be built on the site. If this full fundraising goal is not met, donations will be applied toward improving the site for conversion to a public park.
The Sonoma Land Trust currently holds $1 million for conversion of part or all of Scott Ranch to public park land. KCPP will discuss how best to use these additional funds to develop the Putnam Park extension with the land trust, Petalumans for Responsible Planning, and Sonoma County Regional Parks.
How was the compromise of allowing Davidon to build 28 homes in the case of a partial purchase reached?
Representatives of the Kelly Creek Protection Project spent months in extensive negotiations with Davidon Homes to strike a balanced deal that allowed Davidon an economically beneficial use of its property, while protecting the most sensitive parts of the property and maximizing opportunities for a park expansion. As part of the negotiations, the Kelly Creek Protection Project agreed to pay Davidon to reduce the number of homes to only 28, which is the minimum allowed by current zoning for the property. Davidon in turn agreed to update its proposal to reduce the footprint of the development, protect viewsheds, and lessen impacts on existing homes in the area. The Draft Environmental Impact Report prepared for the City in 2017 called a 28-lot option the “environmentally superior alternative.”
Will there be an environmental review process open to public comment and public hearings?
Yes. There will be l environmental review of the 28-home project and the Putnam Park Extension Project. The public will have the opportunity to comment on both projects and the associated environmental review and to testify at hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council.
How will the California red-legged frog and other wildlife species be protected?
This property contains some of the best habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog in the region, including a viable stock pond and deep creek tributaries. By protecting Kelly Creek and the land surrounding it, this habitat is preserved – providing an irreplaceable haven for this species and others that rely on a healthy riparian and aquatic environment.
How will the park development, maintenance, and operations be paid for?
KCPP intends to ask the Sonoma Land Trust to devote the $1 million grant it is holding for this park project to pay for the development of key aspects of the park (such as trails, restrooms, and parking), after consulting with Sonoma County Regional Parks and Petalumans for Responsible Planning. KCPP will continue to seek public and private funds to restore and improve the wildlife habitat, the ranch buildings, and the public experience. Once the land is donated to the Regional Parks District, the district will maintain and operate the park as it does many other parks in the county.
How does this 28-lot housing subdivision plan differ from what Davidon proposed the last time, in 2017? Is this the same as the 28-lot alternative described in the Draft EIR in 2017?
The subdivision for which Davidon Homes is seeking approval as part of this agreement is a more-sensitively designed version of the 28-lot alternative previously included as an alternative in the EIR, and significantly smaller than the 63-unit development Davidon was pushing for at that time. The new project plan is for mid-range, not luxury, mostly single-story homes, and includes an increased buffer between the housing development and the parkland and will have fewer impacts on views for existing neighbors.
Why were the negotiations conducted privately between KCPP and Davidon?
After a few months of preliminary conversation, it became clear we were ready to work toward a Purchase and Sale Agreement, solely between Davidon as seller and the Kelly Creek Protection Project as buyer. As a fiscally-sponsored project of the 501(c)(3) Earth Island Institute, KCPP was in a position to bring in large tax-deductible donations and grants to make such a purchase. The process had to be strictly confidential because of the sensitive legal and technical issues that needed to be resolved. This is standard procedure for major land transactions. Now that we’ve reached a compromise that both the Kelly Creek Protection Project and Davidon Homes can support, the residential and park plans will go through a full environmental review process with multiple opportunities for public comment.
Could the negotiations between KCPP and Davidon have been conducted more openly?
Keeping the talks, legal provisions, and architectural designs confidential between KCPP and Davidon, until buyer and seller were in agreement on all points, was the only way we could have reached a compromise that permanently protected all or most of Scott Ranch. Only through this confidential process could we determine Davidon’s bottom line on key issues: the prices for all or part of the Scott Ranch property, the maximum number of houses that could be built, the interface between the residential project and the park land, who would pay for what, the timetable, the elements compatible with Sonoma County Parks, and much more. Now that we know what Davidon will agree to, the purchase and sale agreement will legally hold them to it.
What is the timeline for review and approval of the proposed development plan put forth by KCPP and Davidon Homes?
Project applications for Davidon’s home development and KCPP’s proposed park extension have been submitted to the City of Petaluma and are a matter of public record. A revised draft environmental impact report that will address the requirements set by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) will be prepared by the City as the lead agency reviewing the revised project. We expect the review process to be completed sometime in 2019, but exact timelines will be set by the City. The public will be notified by the City throughout the process, and KCPP will also keep you informed.
How can the public weigh in on the two proposed options for the Scott Ranch land?
There will be a public comment period on the environmental impact report and the chance to appear and testify before the Planning Commission, City Council, and other resource agencies before any decision is made. The final decisions will be made in open public sessions by our elected officials.
Financially, the community will decide what happens to this land – a 44-acre park with 28 houses built on the north side away from the creek, or a 58-acre park with no houses. In the end, if we fall short of the full $11 million fundraising goal and the City denies approval of the new park and home development proposal, Davidon Homes will still own the entire ranch. Because the land is zoned for 28 to more than 100 homes, Davidon would retain the right to pursue a larger development at a time of its choosing.
Did any City of Petaluma staff participate in the negotiation of the Purchase and Sale Agreement between KCPP and Davidon Homes?
No. The negotiations regarding the Agreement were held only between KCPP and Davidon Homes. KCPP notified City officials of the terms of the agreement only once it had been finalized by both parties.
Could the City Council declare that no houses can be built anywhere on this land due to environmental problems? Can the City force Davidon to give up the land and donate it for open space and parkland?
Davidon Homes owns Scott Ranch and by current zoning designation is allowed to build at least 28 homes there under the City’s General Plan. Landowners cannot be forced to give their property away even if they can’t subdivide and develop it. Refusing Davidon some reasonable economic use of its land could expose the City to a potential “unconstitutional takings” lawsuit.
What if the City doesn’t approve the revised EIR for 28 homes?
For the partial purchase of the property, the agreement between KCPP and Davidon requires that both the $4.1 million purchase price be raised and that Davidon receive City approval to construct 28 homes on the land. It is within the City’s purview to require Davidon to make some changes to its proposed development plan. However, anything short of approval for the construction of 28 homes would void the agreement. Without this agreement, Davidon would be free to reapply to the City to build more than 28 homes or to sell the property to another developer with no restrictions on the property.
What would have happened if there had been no KCPP compromise with Davidon?
Davidon Homes has indicated it intended to submit an application for a 47-home development, including houses in the pasture in front of the red barns, in the absence of the Purchase & Sale Agreement. The $4.1 million purchase price for 44 acres includes a buy-down of 19 potential homes on the property, making it financially feasible for Davidon to cap the number of homes built at 28.
What happens to funds raised if we don’t reach the full $11 million goal required for a total buy-out of the land?
If we fall short of our $11 million goal, funds raised over $4.1 million will be used for park improvements, including trails, parking lots, public facilities, barn and habitat restoration, and operations/maintenance of the park.
Will donations be used by KCPP to pay for anything other than the purchase of this land?
All donations will be dedicated to the purchase of the land and/or related park improvements required before the property can be transferred to Sonoma County Parks. No funds raised from the community will cover any legal fees, the public review process, or other overhead or administrative costs associated with securing approval for the project. A separate account, funded by separate donations, is covering those operational expenses.
After the Wine Country fires, doesn’t Petaluma need this housing?
The City of Petaluma is responsible for meeting state housing development mandates. Petaluma currently has a need for all housing types, including mid-range homes like the ones that would be developed as part of this project if our community falls short of raising the $11 million required to purchase the entire property from Davidon Homes.