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Monday, July 13, 2009, 12:10 am

Yardbirds founders envision transit-tied project for RP site

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    An architectural rendering by MBH of Alameda of potential redevelopment of the former Yardbirds site in Rohnert Park into a mixed-use development designed to support the proposed Sonoma Marin Area Train station for the city

    An architectural rendering by MBH of Alameda of potential redevelopment of the former Yardbirds site in Rohnert Park into a mixed-use development designed to support the proposed Sonoma Marin Area Train station for the city

    ROHNERT PARK – The family that started the Yardbirds chain of home-improvement stores wants to redevelop the shuttered Rohnert Park store as a transit-oriented, mixed-use development associated with a planned train station nearby.

    The Headley family has approached the city about transforming the 8.2-acre location at 5300 Commerce Blvd. into a mixed-use community.

    In architectural site plans and drawings by MBH, the family envisions 38,000 square feet of retail space at the corner of Commerce and Cascade Court and 102 townhomes stretching back to the railroad tracks. Parking for the homes would be under the units, half below grade.

    “I advised my clients some years ago that this property has great potential; it fronts on Commerce and has great freeway visibility,” said Bert Bangsberg, a Santa Rosa-based corporate real estate consultant to Headley Properties LLC for 15 years.

    Alameda-based MBH recommended a transit-oriented development based on plans for a Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit station a quarter-mile north of the property, a reconfiguration of the Wilfred Avenue interchange on Highway 101 with realignment of Commerce to connect to Roberts Lake Road at the station as well as a possible $1 billion casino northwest of the interchange.

    “For the future, it’s the right thing to do and the right kind of thinking,” Mr. Bangsberg said.

    Though the market for new retail space and new townhomes currently is slow at best and passenger trains won’t be rolling into the future train station – now a Park and Ride lot – until fall of 2014, now is the right time to start planning the station area, according to Mr. Bangsberg.

    The city plans to adopt an update to its General Plan land-use policy document early next year, and Headley Properties has proposed that the land-use designation for the Yardbirds property be changed from industrial to accommodate the envisioned high-density residential and commercial operations at the site.

    That sort of a land-use change likely would be dealt with via a station area plan, rather than the General Plan update, to avoid the legal challenges associated with “spot zoning,” according to Community Development Director Ron Bendorff.

    “We want a station area plan to look at development in other areas around the station,” he said.

    A station area plan is a land-use plan local governments create to encourage residents and businesses to cluster within a quarter- to a half-mile of transit stations. In 2005 the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which oversees Bay Area transportation planning, adopted a transit-oriented development policy to tie transit projects to housing development within walking distance of stations. The policy is part of a joint effort with the Association of Bay Area Governments, which sets housing quotas in the region, and other agencies.

    Rohnert Park’s General Plan Update Committee last week heard presentations by MTC and ABAG staff on what goes into creating station area plans. Santa Rosa received a $450,000 grant in the MTC’s pilot round of station area plan grants in 2007 and used it to complete such a plan for the Railroad Square downtown area. Cloverdale received a $140,000 grant last summer and is in the midst of planning around its existing train station.

    This summer the MTC will focus its station area plan grants on the SMART corridor because the sales-tax funding is in place and the time is right for land-use planning ahead of train service, according to Doug Johnson, a senior planner who represented the MTC in Rohnert Park last week.

    Though the time is right for advance community planning because of the ebb in demand for planning department services, the MTC recognizes that city budget cuts have left local departments with little or no staff to undertake the significant work needed to complete a plan, not to mention the 20 percent local match the MTC requires for grants, according to Mr. Johnson.

    “We’ll be working closely with cities and SMART to get that met,” he said. “It will be a real stretch for some cities.”

    Petaluma and San Rafael already have completed much of the planning work with studies of their downtown areas in recent years, Mr. Johnson noted.

    Those two cities, along with Santa Rosa for its Jennings station, are expected to submit applications for grants by the August deadline.

    For now, the Rohnert Park former Yardbirds site will be a staging area for Caltrans work on the Wilfred Avenue interchange.

    The Headley family started Yardbirds in 1975 and sold the chain in 2005 to The Home Depot, which reopened five of the stores in 2007 as a smaller-sized format. The Rohnert Park location wasn’t among them. The Georgia-based home-improvement retail giant closed the Yardbirds stores earlier this year.

    The family retained ownership of the store properties in Petaluma and San Pablo, and those locations are attracting interest for reuse from grocers and other retailers, according to Mr. Bangsberg.

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