Friday, January 28, 2005

Chamber/PD throw curves at County Open Space rules

A group called the Santa Rosa Minor League Baseball Task Force wants to build a 4,500-seat baseball stadium on 15 acres just outside Santa Rosa's northern limits, between Highway 101 and Old Redwood Highway. The Press Democrat reported Monday,

"The task force, working under the auspices of the Santa Rosa Convention and Visitors Bureau, consists of [Chris] Lee, Petaluma Mayor David Glass, land use planning consultant Jim Olmsted, Hilton Hotel general manager Ken Murakami and Maureen Renfro, executive director for the Convention and Visitors Bureau." (1/24/05, "Baseball group dreams of SR field")

"Lee said he has lined up investors poised to invest up to $4 million to purchase an existing California League franchise - provided a reasonable long-term lease can be negotiated for the Alba Lane property and private financing can be arranged for the stadium."

PD columnist Chris Coursey commented the next day, "The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District bought the 56 acres in 1993 and 1994, recognizing the land as 'perfect community separator property,' said Maureen Middlebrook, the district's spokesperson. In 1996, the Open Space District sold the property to the Santa Rosa School District, which had agreed to maintain wetlands there as mitigation for wetlands lost when the district developed Maria Carrillo High School in northeast Santa Rosa. Along with the property transfer went the conservation easement, which keeps the property in agricultural and wetland use 'in perpetuity.' " (1/26/05, "Center field doesn't count as open space")

And the Monday PD news story said, "Maureen Middlebrook, community affairs officer for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, which oversees the purchase of open space and conditions attached to such properties, said she has never heard of a change in zoning for land designated as open space community separator. 'I don't think it's ever been done,' Middlebrook said. 'The voters created the (open space) district with fairly specific intentions for its use.' "

Editorially, the PD came down squarely on the fence: "One of the criticisms of the Open Space District is that it has had too few acquisitions that are open for public recreational use. While the supporters of this plan say they hope to make the ballpark available for school and community use, it's unclear whether this will be enough for the project to attract the political - and public - support it needs." (1/25/05, "County ballpark proposal faces every obstacle except one")

PD editorial writer Ann DuBay supported the proposal with a Wednesday op/ed piece. She said, "it was only a matter of time until someone asked the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors for permission to develop within a greenbelt. That time has now arrived. Chris Lee, who wants to bring California League (Class A) baseball to Sonoma County, is forcing supervisors to step up to the plate and hit the question head on."

DuBay said, "Given the site's advantages, it should be a home run. ... It's visible, it's relatively accessible (notwithstanding the already crowded conditions of the two-lane Old Redwood Highway), and the location isn't plagued by the chilly weather of the old Crushers stadium in Rohnert Park." (1/26/05, "Is a baseball diamond green enough?")

The PD's other columnist Chris Smith echoed DuBay Thursday: "Just to be contrary, I'd suggest that many of the taxpayers who have financed the preservation of open space throughout Sonoma County might think that building a gem of a public-private ballpark on a patch of green close in to Santa Rosa is one sweet idea."

The County Supervisors would have to make the ultimate decision, but the property belongs to the Santa Rosa School District. The PD reported Monday,

"Bill Carle, a member of the Santa Rosa Board of Education and a longtime advocate of open space, said building a school on the property would violate a number of land-use policies, but he doesn't see why 15 or so acres couldn't be used for a ballpark that the community could enjoy. 'The parcel we're talking about is higher than the rest of the property, so the ability to use it for wetlands is not as good as lower land closer to the freeway,' Carle said."

The PD's Monday editorial concluded, "The one question that does not appear in doubt, however, is whether, people will come if and when a stadium is built. The memory of the Sonoma County Crushers is not so distant that people have forgotten the joy of spending an afternoon at the ballpark - without having to drive to San Francisco. The Sonoma County Minor League Baseball Task Force deserves credit for at least keeping that memory alive."

It looks like the Santa Rosa Chamber, through its Convention and Visitors Bureau, is challenging the County Supes to allow more development in the remaining open space between north Santa Rosa and Larkfield. The PD seems to agree, except for Coursey.

If they have their way, Santa Rosa may continue to sprawl north to Windsor on the east side, and to the County Airport on the west side of the freeway. We can expect to lose greenbelts, open space, and community separators to continous urban sprawl along the Highway 101 corridor through Sonoma County.



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