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.