What to do with the Sonoma Truck & Auto site, sitting more or less empty on nearly two acres, at 870 Broadway, a vacant gateway to the city center, a prize location for the right developer with the right idea?
That is the question confronting the City of Sonoma and many of its citizens, who view the site as both a benchmark and a test that may define the Valley’s future.
During the second public meeting orchestrated Feb. 20 by Southern California developer Owen Smith, to test public sentiment and collect input, a design emerged that found a high level of at least preliminary support.
The concept was a public market, based in part on Napa’s Oxbow Market, that would provide mass and structure to one side of a courtyard that would include a restaurant, residential space, and perhaps a community garden.
As presented by Mike Pattinson, principal architect with the San Francisco firm Bull Stockwell Allen, the concept was one of three viable options identified for the site, that might also include a small hotel and residential units.
Three variations of a plan, possibly incorporating all three elements, were presented to the public, containing about 12,000 square feet of market space, 24,000 square feet of residential space and 2,000 to 3,000 square feet for a restaurant and parking.
Public response to the courtyard concept was almost universal, if somewhat skeptical when combined with on-site parking.
Said Sonoma architect Bill Willers, “The courtyard is the Achilles heel. The parking lot-ness of it is the thing you most have to overcome.”
Pattinson showed schematics of the proposals on a screen, pointing out that each configuration allowed for significant setback from the banks of Nathanson Creek, which defines the eastern boundary of the property. That pleased Larry Barnett, whose Preserving Sonoma Committee is paying close attention to the property’s fate. “I think your instinct is correct about respecting the creek and not building close to it,” he said.
Pattinson said the property could accommodate 38 residential units, but Smith cautioned that any assumptions about numbers of units for living space or hotel rooms were premature and that far more work would be required before even a preliminary proposal could be presented to the city.
But he said the market concept was clearly the most attractive and he felt it could be viable. “We have multiple operators willing to work with us, and they are very excited to get in there,” he told the Index-Tribune after the meeting.
Smith acknowledged that combining the proposed courtyard with on-site parking could be a problem.
That was our big take-away,” he said of the meeting. “We might have to move some of the parking to the street.”
He said the next step for the project is to “get the feel and massing right” of the elements, and to add in the specific building and design requirements imposed by the city.
He said it was too early to talk about the size of a possible hotel, adding that, “A hotel is not a requirement, by any means, but it’s a good, symbiotic relationship. It would certainly be smaller than what’s next door,” referring to MacArthur Place, the 64-room hotel directly across the street.
Pattinson said the project is a “good two to three months away” from being ready for presentation to city officials, assuming that Smith is prepared to move forward.