Patten Street fire station to go on the market

The City of Sonoma will be looking for a real estate professional to help dispose of the only non-housing property owned by its former redevelopment agency – the Patten Street Fire Station.

Acting as the Successor Agency, the Council on Monday unanimously approved the staff recommendation to hire a realtor to list the property for sale, market it and solicit offers from qualified buyers.

“I don’t see that we have any choice,” said Councilmember Steve Barbose. Other councilmembers echoed his sentiment, noting that choices allowed by the State Department of Finance are limited.

Other allowed options, outlined by Sonoma Planning Director David Goodison, included: retain for government use; retain for future development; or retain to fulfill an enforceable obligation. None of those options were considered viable. If the City kept the building for future use or future development, it would have to buy it back. Plus, there is no enforceable obligation for which it is needed. That left liquidation, which would provide the speediest solution and would get the highest value for the property—two requirements of the state.

“How much do you think a prospective buyer’s development plan will help decide who gets to buy it?” asked Mayor Ken Brown. Goodison answered that any purchase will have to be contingent on getting approvals and entitlements from approving bodies.

Nancy Simpson, a Patten Street neighbor, said she has faith in the city’s planning bodies and knows that she and her neighbors will have an opportunity to participate in public meetings shaping the outcome. “The property has become run down. We look forward to being proud of it again. Take steps necessary to allow appropriate development there.”

The zoning is mixed use and any realtor who markets the property will have to take that into consideration. Current objectives for the property, set forth in the general plan and other city documents, state that it should be a gateway to the Plaza, serving as an anchor to the Plaza business district; that it should stimulate pedestrian-oriented activity; that it should be attractive and compatible with the character of the community; that it utilize environmentally-friendly principles, and that it should include revenue-generating activities.

Located in the Historic Overlay Zone, the structure came close to being sold to Foothill Partners just prior to the recent elimination of redevelopment agencies in California. The developer at one time hoped to include Peet’s Coffee, which has since located across the street from the site.

Completed in 1948 and expanded and remodeled in 1982, the Fire Station was closed in 2002 and sold by the City at the height of the real estate boom to its Community Development Agency in 2006 for $2.8 million. Current value of the property, according to its most recent assessed valuation, is $825,000. The dramatic drop in value reflects the economic downturn in property values, and the fact that it will most likely not be developed at its highest and best use based on neighborhood concerns. If space is maximized, and the project is allowed to be mostly commercial, the value of the property might be more. In 2011, Foothill had offered $1.2 million for the site.

The process for selecting a real estate professional to represent the property will be discussed at the meeting of the Oversight Board on Sept. 25. The Oversight Board, a group made up of representatives of taxing agencies, is charged with making decisions about matters related to the now defunct redevelopment agency and its financial obligations. A request for qualifications will be developed and two members of the Board will most likely be selected to work with the staff in evaluating qualified realtors, according to City Manager Carol Giovanatto.

Once the property is marketed and offers for the property are submitted, the Successor Agency and the real estate professional will conduct an initial review and recommend a short list for further discussion and evaluation to the Oversight Board. Successor Agency staff will negotiate with each firm under the direction of the Oversight Board, which will make the selection of the preferred proposal.

Once planning approvals have been obtained, the property can be sold and all proceeds will be distributed among all taxing agencies within the city.