Residents of Petaluma, Calif., north of San Francisco, are hoping another developer will step forward to renovate its 1892 silk mill after 26 investors backed out of a condo project late last year.
Designed by San Francisco architect Charles Havens and renovated in 1922 by Brainerd Jones, the Georgian revival factory is on the market for $7.5 million. In October, the city stymied investors when it said that the project couldn't proceed until the city adopts a new general plan that addresses water conservation--probably sometime in April, according to the city's mayor, Pam Torliatt.
"It was a timing issue," Torliatt says. "The status of our general plan not only affected this development project; it has affected many development projects. We've been in a de facto building moratorium, and legally we weren't able to do anything."
The Petaluma Preservation Group withdrew its contract on the building in October, saying the city's delays have cost it $1.5 million.
"It would transform a city block of blight," writes Skip Sommer, one of the 26 investors, in the local Argus-Courier. "It would be done in "green" construction with conservation of water a primary concern. We've offered to pay the newly proposed water fees."
Last year, the Sunset Line and Twine textile factory's longtime owner, the Agnew family, closed the factory and held an auction, stripping the building of its original doors, staircases, and other original features. Locals have criticized the owner for not securing the building, which has been broken into and vandalized.
Although the development team backed off after two years of planning, city officials, who say they had to consider California's environmental planning laws, say there's hope for the building.
"This wasn't the last chance for the Silk Mill. The more people who know about the building, the more likely it is that another investor will come along," says Teresa Barrett, a city council member. "The financial return is not going to realized for some time to come, but with money, vision and patience it can happen."
The silk mill is in a very desirable neighborhood, says Christopher Stevick, a general contractor and past president of Heritage Homes of Petaluma. "It's in an area that's about to see a lot of development."
Mayor Torliatt plans to see to it that the building is protected. "There are great opportunities for this property that may end up being more desirable than breaking up this structure into residential units," she says. "No matter what occurs with this building, it will stay intact and be restored. That is something that I certainly will continue to support."
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