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Rohnert Park, Laulima Development reach deal on land near $400M downtown redevelopment project

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This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com, also part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.

The city of Rohnert Park has accepted a developer’s offer to buy a 2-acre property next to the site of a planned downtown square for nearly $1 million, ending an impasse that appeared to threaten the entire project.

The City Council met behind closed doors Tuesday and voted 5-0 to eventually sell the city’s maintenance and storage yard to San Francisco-based Laulima Development for $936,200.

A dispute over the value of the property prompted the developer to halt construction and delay plans to open the Station Avenue development in the fall of 2020. With a deal now in place, construction of the $400 million city center will resume and Laulima hopes to complete the project by the spring or summer of 2021, said David Bouquillon, the company’s managing partner.

“I think we’re going to be resetting the bar there for a new date shortly,” Bouquillon said. “I’m just happy we’re back on track here. In the end, it worked out for everyone. We found common ground, life went on and we moved forward.”

The two sides had previously agreed to a sales price of $300,000 for a small portion of the corporation yard, allowing the developer to finish the first phase of the project on the former 32-acre State Farm Insurance campus. The remainder of the city property was set aside to be sold in a separate agreement, at a price to be determined, while the city identified a new location for the Public Works Department.

Council members initially balked at selling the land without accounting for the cost of building a new facility, estimated at $5 million. But they voted unanimously Tuesday to sell the property for just under $1 million after determining the 45-year-old public works building would need costly seismic updates if the department remained at the maintenance yard.

“That building is old, does need some work and it’s either dump money into that or move,” said Vice Mayor Joe Callinan, who has been outspoken about ensuring the city obtained a fair price for the property. “I started weighing all the benefits — the goods and bads — and there’s a lot of revenue on that when it’s done. We’re making sure we’re getting our downtown now.”

A handful of residents spoke at Tuesday’s meeting before the council went into closed session to discuss the land deal. Each supported reaching a deal so the long-desired downtown project could move forward, starting with grading of the site and utility and infrastructure work.

“It seems like we’re arguing, to a certain extent, about the drapes on a $400 million investment in our community,” said Gerard Giudice, 57, who has served on the city’s Planning Commission for eight years. “Certainly it is your responsibility to try and get the best price for the land. But I also understand that we don’t want to be pennywise and foolish here. The deal is on the table and I think the time has come to take it.”

Once the agreement is finalized, the city and developer will work together on any environmental issues that arise on the property, including potential asbestos in the building and any possible ground pollutants from the maintenance yard. The sale requires completion of the project’s first phase, including the 270,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space, before the city property is transferred for a future commercial parking lot. The city estimates it will remain on the site for three more years while it builds a new facility for the Public Works Department.

“This is a dream the community has, and we’ve fought hard to bring that dream to reality,” said Mayor Gina Belforte, citing conversations about developing a downtown dating to the early 1990s. “This just cements it all the way now. There’s not anything else we have to do to get the downtown built. Now it’s all on the developer.”

This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com, also part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.

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