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?