By PHILIP RILEY
Leaders of the community group that will receive a $100,000 settlement payment from the developers of the Target shopping center say they have no specific plans yet for the amount, which others have called “unprecedented.”
The payment — which came out of the group’s negotiation with Regency, the project developers — is a part of a settlement that clears the project of all legal roadblocks and ends the two lawsuits over the shopping center planned at the former Kenilworth Junior High School site.
The $100,000 payment reflects the hours of work that leaders of the group spent on the project, said Matt Maguire, a former City Council member and co-chair of the Petaluma Community Coalition. Others say the move may set an “unusual” precedent for the city that could discourage business and encourage litigation.
“Frankly, we haven’t decided how it will be spent,” said Maguire. “It will go in part toward repaying donors.” he said.
Maguire and Paul Francis, a co-chair of the group, said they would like to invest some of the money in the community.
“I hope we can use the money and put it back into something positive in the community — whatever that may be,” said Francis.
The sum could be used for seed money for organizations, to apply for grants or to “achieve things that the city is unable to do,” said Francis.
Both Francis and Maguire said that Council “failed” to address environmental impacts that the project would have on surrounding neighborhoods, and that their lawsuit was an attempt to do so. Maguire said that “it’s possible,” that the money could be used in future litigation if the public process “fails” again. If the council fully addresses impacts of developments, then there may not be a need to litigate, he said.
“We did not enter into litigation with anything but utmost reluctance,” said Maguire.
Others worried that the payment sets a precedent for lawsuits and business in Petaluma.
“That piece of it was very problematic to me,” said Councilmember Mike Harris, who said he voted against the settlement in closed session because of the payment to the group.
Harris said that “the cumulative impacts of these types of decisions makes businesses pause” before coming to Petaluma. He added that the settlement may cause other groups to see litigation as a way to “line their pockets.”
“I think it’s very unusual,” said Harris.
In addition to the payment, the settlement says Regency and the Petaluma Community Coalition will drop their competing lawsuits and Regency will pay legal fees for the city and the community group.
Regency also agreed to other modifications to the buildings and $40,000 to the city to be spent on traffic improvements in the East D Street neighborhood.
Regency’s payments in the settlement amount to about $216,000.
Both Maguire and Francis said that they would have liked more changes to the project rather than the payment, but felt like they would not be able to get more from Regency.
The agreement also prohibits the group from any further actions on the shopping center, including the public process in the possible addition of a Friedman’s Home Improvement store.
Regency representatives did not return calls for comment on the settlement or their timeline for opening the shopping center.