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Council Approves Deer Creek Project 4-3

In a meeting lasting until 1 o'clock in the morning, council moves to certify the Final Environmental Impact Report for the development, in the works for the past seven years.

The Petaluma City Council approved the Deer Creek Village shopping center, including Friedman’s Home Improvement store, on Monday night during an emotional meeting that included comments from nearly 50 residents and business owners and which lasted six hours.

The council voted 4-3 to move forward with the project, with Mayor Dave Glass, Vice Mayor Tiffany Renee and Councilmember Teresa Barrett opposing.

The hearing was packed with more than 150 people spilling out of the council chambers to the entrance of City Hall. During comments, traffic again surfaced as one of the main negative impacts of the 345,000 square foot shopping center on North McDowell and Rainier Boulevard.

But the developer, Merlone Geier Partners of San Francisco, assured the council that the shopping center, which will also include a gym, an electronics store and restaurants, would add no more than one minute and thirty seconds to current travel times.

“This isn’t about a big box, it isn’t about a hardware store, but it’s about Eastside people having a place to go,” said Mike Schrock, a landscape architect with San Diego-based Urban Arena, adding that the shopping center would have an art walk, many trees and benches, a creek and space for a farmer’s market. “It isn’t a place for business, it’s a place for community.”

Many speakers said they believed that “the slight increase” in traffic was worth the economic benefits of the project. City planners estimate the development will bring in about $1 million a year in sales tax revenue and $9.2 million in impact fees, while Merlone Geier promises 300 construction and 500 permanent jobs.

“Yes traffic is a problem and we need to address it,” said Petaluma Chamber of Commerce CEO Onita Pellegrini. “But I will gladly add 30 seconds of my time to drive to Deer Creek if it means adding 800 jobs to our community.”

“I don’t want to go to Santa Rosa for my shopping and I don’t want just Friedman’s, but other nice retailers,” said 83-year-old resident Petaluma Louis Vicino. “Hurry up and make this development go through before I kick the bucket,” drawing laughter from the audience.

But critics said their opposition was not to Friedman's, but to the significant unavoidable consequences of the project, including traffic, noise and building in a floodplain.

"It’s about long term quality of life and it’s what no one is addressing," said Janice Cader-Thompson who lives across the street from the project site. "People are already using 101 to get to north Petaluma, so what will it be like after Deer Creek is built?"

If anything, one thing that was clear Monday was the deep-seated respect for Friedman's, which began in Petaluma and is today headquartered in Santa Rosa.

Many of the speakers praised Friedman’s for not only being a local company providing a needed service, but also a business that has a strong track record of giving back to the community, helping put on the Veterans’ Day and Butter and Eggs Days parades and funding many youth programs.

Among those who spoke in favor of the project were owner Justin Hansel, President Marcus Benedetti, rancher Arnie Riebli and David Solo, the president and CEO of the , who said that nonprofits would benefit from local businesses such as Friedman’s during difficult financial times.

But Glass, Renee and Barrett raised questions about whether the traffic calculations in the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) were accurate, since it assumes a crosstown connector and interchange at Rainier Avenues to alleviate traffic. They said was unlikely that the city would ever have enough money to build the project, whose price tag is estimated between $109 million and $120 million, according to city engineer Larry Zimmer.

Mayor Glass raised the possibility of implementing a special tax to pay for Rainier, saying that the end of redevelopment agencies left the city no choice. He also said he was in favor of the so-called Alternative C, that would bring a Friedman’s to Petaluma, but eliminate the three other “junior box stores” in favor of a 50-bed residential care facility.

“To me this is the compromise that people have been seeking,” Glass said. “We would achieve the economic benefit of having a home improvement store without having all the environmental impacts.”

Councilmember Healy said he was looking forward to fine-tuning the impact fees (which developers pay to offset impacts of the new project) next month to figure out where savings could be achieved, such as by eliminating various projects for which the city has started collecting fees.

Vice Mayor Renee said that a special tax for Rainier was absolutely necessary to avoid even more delays in building the crosstown connector. “Otherwise, we are just kicking the can down the road,” she said.

After the vote, Councilwoman Barrett gave a list of numerous improvements she hoped the developer would implement, including making all buildings energy efficient, enclosing the Friedman’s lumber yard, improving bicycle access to the shopping center and giving all sides of each building architectural details.

“This project needs to go overboard and provide good things for our community,” Barrett said. “It should be redesigned to be more pedestrian friendly. The idea of 26 acres of concrete is so 1970s.”

Marko Mlikotin, a spokesman for Merlone Geier, said the developer was pleased with the outcome of the vote, calling Monday a great day for Petaluma that would allow the company to recruit new tenants to fill the remaining vacancies at Deer Creek.

“We’ve been working very closely with the community to build a project they support and the alternative we presented tonight reflects a lot of community input,” Mlikotin said. “There is a lot of interest in a shopping center beyond Friedman’s…something with restaurants, fine dining, electronics and somewhere for the community to gather.”

The project will now undergo a Site Plan and Architectural Review (SPAR) at the Planning Commission, where it could be approved or sent back to council with suggestions and recommendations for the project. It is also expected that a group of residents will file a lawsuit challenging the city's decision to approve the development.

Are you satisfied with council's decision to approve the project? Will it help or hurt Petaluma?

pb April 07, 2012 at 08:06 PM
Seer is clearly an agent provocateur: a Merlone or Basin Street employee disguised as a "progressive" in order to discredit common sense and make the people who do not want Petaluma turned into a super-mall look silly. That's why it is ridiculous to allow anonymous comments.
Mitch April 08, 2012 at 02:34 AM
pb, I prefer facts, not fiction. Petaluma Seer states nothing but fiction and someone I will distrust on these forums. Perhaps you are one in the same defending someone with no facts? Your reply was to bash Merlone Geier and Basin Street without a response to the misinformation. And Ptown, sorry but I personally do not believe Rainier will be built in the next 20 years...at least.
pb April 08, 2012 at 04:02 AM
All of the facts that one needs about Deer Creek are in the EIR and its comments. Of course, I bash MG and Basin Street. The latter PROVEABLY was allowed by the council to lurk off with $10 million in city dough from the Theater District, and MG threatens city officials with lawsuits and gets mendacious chamber of commerce pawns like Healy, and his robot, Kearney, to carry their water. They MUST be bashed (figuratively), since the recitation of simple facts does not stop them. More importantly, they must be defeated in the next election before they and Darth Harris and carpet-bagger Albertson and the Brylcreemed, incredibly over-paid city manager and conflicted city attorney succeed in destroying the town simply to curry favor with rich developers form Los Angeles and Reno.
Petaluma Seer April 11, 2012 at 11:04 AM
I agree.
Petaluma Seer April 12, 2012 at 08:39 AM
Mitch, you are correct. I stand corrected on the # of people who voted for Measure S in the 2004 Nov. Election. When I am wrong i admit it not wishing to mislead. Sorry. Although, it was NOT 70% of Petalumans voting for it. Prior, I was looking at the wrong stats. that were on the same sheet of paper that also had the Retail Leakage study on it. Yes, your figure is correct that 17,759 of approx. 55,000 Petalumans, voted for Measure S, which was an Advisory Measure and had no Financial component other than the following . According to the Petaluma City Attorney Richard Tudnansky, the measure directs the City Council to (4) Prepare a financing plan for Rainier Cross-Town Connector and Interchange Project that maximizes the contributions from property owners and businesses directly benefiting from the project via the use of Benefit assessment districts and other appropriate mechanisms. ***(5) Not allow the Environmental Impact Report for any development proposal to utilize the Rainier Cross-Town Connector and Interchange Project as assumed traffic mitigation until such time as (1) all necessary environmental Impact Reports have been certified, (2)all funds to construct the project have been identified and secured, and (3) no substantial impediments remain to construction of the project. It also directed the CC to (2) Epeditiously complete the EIR for the Rainier XTown and Interchange Project. (3) To finalize it's design. NON of these have been done by the CC since the 2004 vote.

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