SAN RAFAEL -- Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit officials have given final approval for the relocation of a proposed commuter rail station in Rohnert Park, embracing a more central site that proponents said could help spur future transit-oriented development in an area that includes the office complex State Farm Insurance vacated in 2010.

The SMART board of directors voted in favor of the move during a meeting in San Rafael, accepting the additional $500,000 estimated cost of building a station on the vacant, city-owned parcel near Rohnert Park Expressway.

[caption id="attachment_49058" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The new site for the proposed SMART station in Rohnert Park is close to the 300,000-square-foot office complex that formerly housed State Farm."][/caption]

The vote came one year after the Rohnert Park City Council first asked SMART to determine the feasibility of relocating the proposed station from another vacant, city-owned parcel near Golf Course Drive and Roberts Lake Road to the north. The city agreed to provide $35,000 to cover the cost of a required environmental review, money that included a $10,000 contribution from the nearby Raley’s Towne Center shopping center, and agreed to make the property “available to SMART at no cost or a nominal fee,” according to a report presented to the board.

Though SMART noted that the original station would be more convenient for southern Santa Rosa and Cotati, staff determined that the new site offered advantages that included proximity to east-west bike paths and a greater volume of nearby housing.

That higher population density was credited for allowing the “activation” of the Atherton station in northern Novato, a stop not originally planned for the system’s initial operating segment between Santa Rosa in Sonoma County and San Rafael in Marin. By bumping up the average density across the entire system, the relocation allowed SMART to include the station in a lower-density area while remaining above the threshold required for certain regional funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The additional cost associated with the station, which was the least expensive of three proposals developed between SMART and the city of Rohnert Park, will involve work that includes drainage and utility improvements. 130 parking spaces will be available at the site, with vehicle access at the intersection of Enterprise Drive and Seed Farm Drive.

Planners said that direct access to the heavily traveled Rohnert Park Expressway could be constructed at a later date, and the proposal including that access would cost an additional $200,000. Building a station with signal light access could cost a total of approximately $1 million.

SMART’s board of directors also received an audited financial report for the 2010-'11 fiscal year, reflecting net assets of $165.5 million and liabilities of $3 million as of June 30. The board also authorized the $4.27 million purchase and relocation of a Texas drawbridge to replace a 107-year-old span over the Petaluma River.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for construction on the SMART line is being planned for Feb. 24 in Petaluma.