By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The developer of a Target-anchored shopping center in Petaluma and a neighborhood group opposed to the project have signed an agreement in which both sides will drop their lawsuits against the city and the developer will pay the group $100,000.
The outlines of the settlement were tentatively agreed upon last month, but a formal contract signed last week included the new six-figure payment to the Petaluma Community Coalition, which filed suit in March claiming the city’s environmental review of the 380,000-square-foot center was inadequate.
City council members agreed to the three-way settlement in closed session, but haven’t publicly announced the action because all parties hadn’t signed legal papers, Councilman Mike Healy said.
However, the settlement, a public document, details $172,000 in payments from the developer, Regency Centers of Florida, to the city and the neighborhood group.
In exchange, the group will drop its lawsuit, as will Regency, which sued the city in January after years of delays in the project, first proposed at the city’s urging in 2004.
The City Council approved the project in February.
One of the opposition group’s leaders, Matt Maguire, said he was pleased with the settlement, but acknowledged it isn’t as broad as his group wanted. A Regency spokesman didn’t return a call seeking comment.
As part of the deal, his group group agreed it will not initiate, support or fund any further litigation against the East Washington Place center on the former Kenilworth Junior High property near Highway 101 and East Washington Street.
That promise includes no legal opposition should Friedman’s Home Improvement formally become part of the project. The Sonoma-based chain has a nonbinding agreement with Regency to build an 80,000-square-foot store with a 20,000-square-foot garden center and a drive-through lumber yard on the rear third of the development.
Maguire said Regency wouldn’t budge on some of the major design concessions his group wanted, which went beyond what city leaders required.
“We’re satisfied that we did the best that could have been done for the community. We got what could be gotten,” he said. “It’s just a shame that the council didn’t, for whatever reason, feel like it could stick by their guns and impose some meaningful conditions of approval that would have improved the environmental impacts of the project.”
Regency would not agree to make Target a two-story structure with parking below, provide a greater mixed-use component or add housing units. It did agree to install additional solar lighting, two bus stops, more trees behind the center and to consider realigning a street that runs in front of the swim center.
Regency also agreed to pay the city’s legal fees for defending both lawsuits, about $32,000, and fund $40,000 of city traffic mitigation efforts in the East D Street neighborhood where the opposition group leaders live. City studies estimate the development will mean hundreds of new vehicle trips through the neighborhood streets each day, Maguire said.
An additional $100,000 will be paid to the Petaluma Community Coalition, part of a larger group of residents opposed to big-box development in the city. A Lowe’s home improvement store also is planned for a north Petaluma location.
Councilman Mike Healy, who said he voted against signing the agreement, said the payout to the group sets a dangerous precedent of paying off opposition.
“It looks like Regency just made the decision to pay them to go away,” he said. “The concern to me is that it’s putting a very negative picture on the business climate in Petaluma. It’s bad enough that this happened and it’s worse that the city of Petaluma has now put its blessing on it.”
Maguire, a former councilman, called Healy’s position “shameful.”
“He did almost nothing to mitigate the environmental impacts of this project or its traffic impacts,” Maguire said. “We brought suit out of self-defense. Now he’s attacking the victim by taking that attitude.”
He called the public review process of the Target project “a complete and utter failure.” He said he doubted the $100,000 payment would encourage future lawsuits by opposition groups.
“If someone thinks that’s a way to make money, they’re crazy,” he said. “If someone thinks the city council has failed the community again, and they consider a suit, more power to them.”
Regency has not said when it plans to break ground on the project.