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Deer Creek Developer, Residents Reach Settlement

Under terms of agreement, Merlone Geier will donate money to two community groups, pay for "traffic calming" measures and new trees

Merlone Geier, the developer of the Deer Creek shopping center, and the Petaluma Neighborhood Association, led by resident Paul Francis, have reached an agreement that allows the company would move forward with plans to build in exchange for additional improvements, such as traffic calming measures, new trees and a donation to local community groups.

The settlement was announced Friday and comes less than a month after Francis, a frequent critic of “big box” stores and sprawl, filed an appeal against the city for approving the 350,000 square foot development, which will have a Friedman’s home improvement store, a gym, restaurants and stores.

The appeal was scheduled to be heard at a hearing Monday.

Reached by phone, Francis said that he was pleased with the outcome and that he filed the appeal to ensure the city got the most out of the new development.

“I consider it a win-win,” Francis said. “It’s all about making the project viable and beautifying it so that people will actually want to go there, and could walk or bicycle there if they wanted to… We want to lift the community up, economically and environmentally.”

Francis declined to disclose the total amount of the settlement, but said that donations would be made to the River Heritage Center, a river educational center on McNear Peninsula, and Heritage Homes, a group focused on preserving Petaluma’s historic buildings.

As part of the agreement, the developer will also pay for additional traffic calming measures for pedestrians near the shopping center, improvements to Lynch Creek trail and tree planting on the Eastside.

Merlone Geier also reached a separate, non-monetary settlement with Janice and Gerald Thompson, who live across the street from the planned development. Under the terms of their agreement, the developer will consider putting in a pedestrian crossing at North McDowell and Rushmore Avenue, restore Deer Creek (including preserving the valley oak planted there) and build a new fence along a portion of McDowell.

"Dealing with the developer was easy, but it’s not something a citizen should have been doing, but the city council," said Janice Cader Thompson. "When you get up to speak, the city council doesn’t ask you any questions. They have their discussion, but they don’t bring you back into the discussion and that's a real problem. They need to learn how to communicate with everybody, and not just the developer and the Chamber of Commerce."

Councilman Mike Harris was among those who welcomed the news of the settlements.

“I’m glad we can move forward with a much needed project and revenue enhancement for the City,” Harris said. “A small group has held this up for too long.”

The project is set to start construction in early 2013 and be completed by the end of that year.

This is not the first time Francis has challenged a development.

In 2010, Francis and former councilman Matt Maguire sued the city and Regency Centers over the Target shopping center. Regency Centers settled the case, paying $82,000 for all the legal costs and $40,000 for “traffic calming” measures. The men also received $100,000 from Regency, for which were criticized by both supporters and opponents of Target.

Bookworm September 23, 2012 at 06:50 AM
mikeg55, you are totally ignoring the content here in favor of sticking your tongue out at those who would try to improve a project. Don't you realize how obvious it is when you kiss up to money?
Ptown September 23, 2012 at 02:53 PM
Even if the council got the developer to agree to the same development concessions before, the pna still would've sued. Lets not be naive here, the group would not of settled w/out getting some $$$$ out of Merlone. It's not hard to force a donation and personally benefit from it if you're close to that non profit etc...
Max September 23, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Ptown, I think you're putting the cart before the horse. Both of these projects are a result of a group of council members who have been on the council for a long, long time, it's a result of their failure to develop the City's landuse policies and a failure to maximize the City's land use entitlement assets. I got a robo call from Mike Healy endorsing Kathy Miller the other day. By his own admission Healy said, "I've been on the council for 12 years." What has he done to solve financial problems of our city? What has he done to solve the traffic problems here? He has supported projects that create the most traffic of any type of development and now he wants to spend the entire $20 million impact fees on one single large project, Rainier CTC. Healy and his council majority have already borrowed $11.5 million to pay for that project that does not have the endorsement of CalTrans and will most likely never get built. The City is broke, with less than $1.5 million in reserve. What a waste of money for the tax payers... now THAT is extortion!
Ptown September 23, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Thanks max for affirming what I said, Francis and co. Are basically hypocrites and can be bought just like everyone else. Mikeg, thanks for commenting, spot on with the reality of the situation. Wouldn't of been a settlement w/out a payoff, everything else was just a cover to look like its not all about the dollars. Just be real.
Max September 23, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Ptown, yeah, but no need to put the blame on the developer and no need to blame Francis. Because it looks like they both are working together n' trying to do something good for the the neighborhood and the community. This is clearly Healy and his majority and their do nothing approach to planning/landuse. They've created a real mess and the homeowners and tax payers are going to get stuck with paying hundreds of millions to fix this. Just realize who were responsible when the chicken comes home to roost. Time to get a new team on the council!
Active Thinker September 23, 2012 at 07:50 PM
So much to blame. We do need to keep tax revenue in our town. We do need to keep it from becoming a big box town. It would be great to see Friedman's. Many people shop at Target and really like it. Hopefully it works out. One issue is the amount of trees along the 101 that were cut down. And by the Swim Center...what happened to those Redwoods? Why were they cut down? The more we build the more we destroy our town. We should have sold the swim center so we could have built a year round swim center. We have one public pool. The Petaluma High School...which is old and small. And not open to general public that much.
Petaluma Seer September 23, 2012 at 11:17 PM
mikeg55, alias for you, Mr. Healy, are the extorter. You want to point a negative finger toward those who achieved more than you for the city. They did fight tooth and nail to keep the Big Boxes out, but you Mr. healy pushed the project thru without traffic mitigations because of your personal and political aspirations. We see your signs, with Miller, all over that field. Your #1 priority was to pander to the developers for money, and use of their field for your campaign. You left the Petaluma Residents with just the mere choice of having to settle for at least a few mitigations by working directly with the Developers, rather than thru the impotent council Majority. In fact one of the people involved in the appeal was actually the responsible party for keeping Freidman's in the loop and involved and informed when MG partners wanted Lowe's instead. Meanwhile, you are onto filling your pockets, for supossedly protecting Rohnert Park from a Casino bringing in the exact same traffic scenario you purposely voted into Petaluma via the DCV project so you could be in favor with those developers. You just chase the $$$$'s for your pocket. You actions are transparent. Just like your promises for the last 12 yrs. of funding Rainier which you advance during your campaigns, then fizzles once won. Your only interest in this city is for your own personal GAIN! Strike 3, you are out!
paul francis September 24, 2012 at 02:09 AM
Active Thinker, good comment. When the neighborhood challenged the Target project, one of the elements of the our agreement with the developer (Regency Centers) was the requirement to build an earthen berm along the back side of the project and plant a new grove of trees. I know to some this seems minor, but for us in the neighborhood since the trees have been cut down, we can hear the noise of the traffic on HWY101. So, this is a big deal to some of us in the community, something we tried very very hard to get in the final settlement. As you can see with the Deer Creek project arrangement, the developer (Merlone Geier) graciously offered to plant trees in our community. It's a well know fact that trees not only enhance the aesthetics of a community, they also increase property values. That makes them good for the local economy!
Max September 24, 2012 at 05:05 PM
I think it's interesting that the article never mentions the fact of the multi-million dollar developer (Regency Centers) filed a lawsuit against the City of Petaluma first! It was Matt and Paul who were the only individuals who stood up to stop that lawsuit. Not even the approval of the project stopped the lawsuit that the developer had pending. Why no mention of that Karina?
Tony Mangione September 24, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Some people personally profit by threatening lawsuits. Petaluma is home to them. They drop those threats when they're paid off, spreading some of the excess cash to unrelated charities under the guise of public service. They're selling "protection" just like any other legitimate businessmen do. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-bang... deal done. If you don't like it, I'll tell you where you can stuff it. Bravo, Don Francis, and Bravo to your consiglieres.
Petaluma Seer September 24, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Tony, you are only interested in spreading negativity. Let's be clear who the, some people, are you think profitted by threatening lawsuits. Actually, they were getting some much needed mitigations for the neighborhood they have lived in for decades. That's right, the neighbors had to stand strong where the Council Majority had blocked them, rather than helping them. And yes, they were generous and willing to share with the community some of the funds. They are proactive leaders, good people, and good neighbors who brought in solutions. Truth of the matter is, it was the adjacent neighbors who ushered Freidman's in when the Developers did not want them, and Freidman's did not feel welcomed when they first tried to work with those developers as they had hit a brick wall with them. A member of the adjacent neighborhood was persistent for the local business to return, and the project was held off until Lowe's stock went so low they had to pull out of several planned locations. The neighbors had watched the stock and kept Freidman's in the loop, advising them of the meetings, etc. So you'all can thank those who stayed strong for years, and appealed. Result is, we all get local company Freidmans back. Happy? Mission acccomplished! Meanwhile they had no support from the Council majority who could have cared less about which choice of Home Improvement came in, or traffic mitigations for the neighborhoods surrounding the project, or the community at large. Level F traffic coming.
mikeg55 September 24, 2012 at 07:56 PM
I'm not "Mr. Healey". And I may be confused. If the neighbors actually wanted Friedman's, why would they complain about the traffic? If they didn't want traffic, shouldn't they should have continued to oppose the center? And if this settlement was for the benefit of the neighbors near the shopping center, why do the River Heritage Center and Heritage Homes get any money at all? They are clear on the other side of town. Maybe that $35,000 should be given to those residents who live by the shopping center?
Tony Mangione September 24, 2012 at 08:32 PM
I'm WITH you Seer. Keep coming up with the arguments for it, 'cause regardless of the benefits put up for the project by Merlone Geier, there is a lot of "extra" money available for those who oppose development. Why not take advantage of it? $100,000 here... $36000 there... That's a couple of trips to Vegas, baby. Party on the Gravy Train! Who's gonna stop 'em? They've got a proven business model, and it's totally LEGIT. End of story.
Petaluma Seer September 24, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Sorry, I misspelled your name, Mr. Healy. The neighbors knew that Freidman's were in contract to" wait as long as it took for the approval". Therefore, there was time to mitigate the traffic. There was never a danger to losing them according to a statement made by the representative from MGPartners, that met with the neighbors many months ago. Through the process the neighborhood put forth with the developers, they got traffic mtigations, crosswalks, sound fences and tree plantings along McDowell for sound barriers, also including Lynch Creek improvements so more people would bike to the project from the Westside, and the Eastside would bike to the West, to facilitate it being less auto-centric therefore calming traffic down, and Rushmore Ave. will have traffic calming mitigations in addition. The River Heritage Center and Heritage Homes (trestle boardwalk repair) funds were to help mtigate the loss of revenue to our downtown retailers. To attract Tourist dollars into Petaluma, for visiting our River, to create a draw of people into our heritage downtown, in an effort to keep our historical retail shopping sustainable once these Big Box developments are in place. Did I connect the dots well enough for you? Much of the agreement and reasons why are not in the press.
Petaluma Seer September 24, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Reply to Tony: Actually of the $191 awarded, the group is still out $1000's as the funds are earmarked for the mitigations and the heritage monies. Do you have any idea how expensive the cost of materials, engineering, and labor is to implement the mitigations? A Contractor was seen walking around the suggested mitigation builds, over the weekend and stated, "It will be very economically close, very tight, not sure it can all be done with that little of monies, with the City crews." The money will create revenues for the City Crews and Staff and that is a good thing, don't you think? Further helping to keep city Employees employed is always a good thing. The monies came from the developers and in exchange they gain, and Freidman's gain. No argument here, just the facts.
Petaluma Seer September 24, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Actually Tony, the end of the story would be in place if we had a proactive Council Majority that could negotiate well with all developers for Petalumans. These developers were negotiable but it required a skilled negotiators majority. The current Council Majority does not have this as their leader is a Lawyer and lawyers enjoy litigation as that is what they do best. That's the climate and the community has to apply the rules they have placed before them.
Tony Mangione September 24, 2012 at 10:15 PM
You musta left something out, 'cause that dog don't hunt. Let me get this straight: "The Group" is out $1000's... who is that? And the money that MG is paying is not enough to cover the promised mitigation, (not including labor), lawyer fees & kickbacks, and two unrelated political contributions? City Crews (taxpayers) are providing all the labor?... how does this provide revenue to the City to pay for that labor? Is the Don kicking in part of his take to cover cost overruns? Just kidding. LOL It's gonna be a lot of laundry to wash away $100,000 in stains, let alone that fish smell. But I have faith. Where there's a will, there's a way. If the gig works, you keep workin' it. It's just the cost of doing business.
Petaluma Seer September 24, 2012 at 10:53 PM
Everyone contributed, all are out of $$$'s, neighbors and, especially Mr. Francis. That is correct, not enough to reimburse for all lawyer fees, and there were no kickbacks. The money to pay for the mitigation builds is not from the taxpayers, try to follow me here, but from the developers settlement to pay for the work and materials. I can see you do not understand the Math of it. Read the newspapers, all of them, it is is all in there. Figure in what lawyers charge for copious hours, and for how long they have been working on this project. Their ongoing work can be seen in the Govt. Doc's in the govt. hearings. of DCV. Financial responsibility and much $$$$ out from the community to do what this council should have negotiated for the mere cost of $5 a Council meeting! Nuff said.
Tony Mangione September 25, 2012 at 01:49 AM
You're right. I don't understand the math of it from your piecemeal explanations. I do know that the explanations of the previous NIMBY settlement re Target detailed a handsome personal payout for Mr. Francis (and Mr McGuire). I'm sure he can afford to be generous after his previous profits. Perhaps Mr. Francis is not the best public face you could put on your efforts. Ms. Thompson's successful negotiation was pointedly non-monetary. I wonder why? The precedent has been set, and I'm confident that there will be future threats of legal opposition to all prospective businesses as long as ransoms continue to be paid to the litigators. I'm also sure that you'll have no trouble lining up counsel willing to work for the fees involved in the next iteration.
Max September 25, 2012 at 09:48 AM
Tony, What is the point you're trying to make? Is it, that we live in a very litigious society? You get a gold star for that observation! If that is indeed your point, why only go half way with your synopsis here? Why only begrudge one side's involvement in the litigation? Do you think lawsuits for profit are legit only if they are coming from the special interests who don't even live in Petaluma? Or, maybe you forgot that the developer sued our City first, and then sat on that lawsuit while the dollar clock was ticking on our dime, even after they were granted approvals. Based on the blind cynicism in your comments, you must have an axe to grind against people who seek to understand these issues with a little more depth than you. Yes! we live in a very litigious society and there is always big money hanging in the balance. Landuse is a zoning for dollars game. It is my understanding that Francis has done exactly what he said (in a previous PD article) he was intending to do with the money, 'put it back into the community'. It looks like he got something out of the first project, and he's gotten more out of the second project. He's got a good track record for getting some good things out of the developer's for this community. Certainly more than any of the lame ducks on the council. Francis for MAYOR!
mikeg55 September 25, 2012 at 01:57 PM
I just don't buy it. If it looks like a payout, if it smells like a payout, I'm pretty sure it is a payout. But what's done is done. I hope the neighbors of Deer Creek appreciate Mr. Francis's efforts of rebuilding that trestle on the other side of town and upkeep of his heritage home. When I buy stuff at Friedman's and Target I'll think of him.
Max September 25, 2012 at 05:11 PM
mikeg55, C'mon what is the real beef you have with the situation? Are you jealous you did not get off your couch and actually do something for the community yourself? When you're on your way to "buy stuff", you can thank Healy, Harris and the others, while you sit in traffic congestion!
mikeg55 September 25, 2012 at 07:08 PM
You're right Max, I need to start my own opposition group so i can get paid off.
Max September 25, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Naaaa, mikeg55 it's easier for you to just complain about others. Besides that's waaay too much work for a opinionated sloth who hasn't expended an ounce of energy to read any of the City documents for the project. Healy & Kearney... You're Fired!
Petaluma Seer September 25, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Let's define Payoff. Hmm, do you mean like politicians using the developers field for their campaign signs, and accepting personal campaign funds from the same developers, when they should have be been doing their jobs as elected Public Servants for Petalumans and actually vetting the mitigations of that developers huge project? Now that my friends, is big time, old school PAYOFF!! Yep it appears some of our Council members are the best politicians that money can buy! We got 'em right here in our River City.
mikeg55 September 26, 2012 at 02:09 PM
I'm totally convinced! There were no payoffs for the Target and Friedman center. All that money is going back into the community! Yay Petaluma! I can't wait to see that new trestle revitalize downtown, go on a heritage home tour, and then do my weekend shopping at the Target and Friedman shopping centers!!! Happy Happy Joy Joy!
Petaluma Seer September 26, 2012 at 06:30 PM
That's great you finally figured it out past all the defensive negative comments made by those who did nothing to help their community get mitigations for these projects. Thanks for finally coming up to speed, and please, while you are visiting the trestle and small craft boating from the River Heritage center please do shop at the local retailers in the downtown. Please do not just shop just at Target and Freidmans. And tell your friends to do the same. The downtown Garden Shops, Art Galleries, Eateries, Rex Hardware, Clavey's Boat Rentals, etc. need to be sustainable and thrive.. Thanks!
mikeg55 October 03, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Ha Ha Petaluma Seer, I was being sarcastic. Anyway, thank you Heritage Homes for not taking the extorted money. Nice to see a Petaluma-centric organization with scruples!
Petaluma Seer October 04, 2012 at 05:16 AM
If that is their choice, their loss, that's fine. The neighborhood adjacent to the DCV can surely use the funds for the mitigations. That will work out just fine. I am however sorry if there will be less draw to the historical downtown, thereby our local heritage Retailers. That was the money's intent. Perhaps the Heritage Homes may be funded enough from other donations. That's great! Looking forward to walking on a newly repaired trestle!
Jonathan December 14, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Im Curious as to who is going to be the General Contractor for the Job.. If any one knows shoot me an email.. Thankyou juribe707@gamil.com

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