A local real estate developer has scooped up a former freight railyard next to Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit’s Railroad Square station with plans to build hundreds of apartments in downtown Santa Rosa.
Cornerstone Properties closed on the land deal last week with the transit agency, SMART officials announced Wednesday. The Petaluma-based commercial developer paid $6 million for the vacant tract zoned for housing and retail space, after completing a final review of the 5.31-acre property last month.
“We are excited that we have sold this property to a company that we believe will build some much-needed housing for Santa Rosa,” SMART Board Chairwoman Deb Fudge said. “It’s primed and ready for housing. They know the process and what it takes to get development done in the city. Now’s the time to do it.”
For going on a decade, the commuter rail agency tried to sell the downtown parcel, which comes with it a complex mishmash of land easements and possible soil contamination from its history as a former Union Pacific Railroad right of way. Two previous agreements fell through with would-be buyers, the most recent in January, before Cornerstone emerged earlier this year with a winning bid. In July, Cornerstone and SMART officials entered into an initial agreement for the developer to buy the tract.
“We’re thrilled,” said County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who also sits on SMART’s board. “We’re not going to build our way out of this housing crisis with 30 units. It ain’t gonna happen. We need to have hundreds, we absolutely do, in the right places.”
Santa Rosa was hit hard by the October 2017 Tubbs fire that destroyed more than 3,000 homes, or 5 percent of the city’s housing stock. The historic fire worsened the longstanding housing shortage which started a decade ago when the severe recession caused a sharp drop in residential construction.
Cornerstone originally agreed to pay $6.7 million for the land. Further review of the property located along the SMART right of way between West 6th and West 3rd streets led to additional negotiations, and, based on potential liabilities, the lower final sale price, Fudge said.
Details about what a future housing development might look like on the property are unclear. The developer has yet to submit a development proposal to the city for review. Reached by phone Wednesday, Alon Adani, a principal with Cornerstone Properties, declined to comment.
Earlier this year before backing out of a deal to buy the land, Santa Clara-based ROEM Development Corp. planned 321 apartments that included 48 affordable units above 15,000-square-feet of retail and office space. A food and wine market similar to the Oxbow Public Market in Napa was set to be an anchor to the development.
The downtown area is zoned for buildings up to five stories, said David Guhin, Santa Rosa’s planning and economic development director. The city has long aimed for housing on the Railroad Square site, and welcomed the news of the land sale as a signal of finally seeing an apartment complex near the public rail line.
“It’s a huge step,” Guhin said. “We have put in place a number of policies in the downtown to facilitate housing and a project like this will benefit from those. Hopefully we’ll see something soon.”
This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com.