By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Petaluma neighborhood group that took $150,000 last year from developers to drop its opposition to a Target shopping center is now challenging the legality of the environmental impact report of another, similar-sized proposal anchored by Lowe’s.
San Francisco lawyers for the Petaluma Neighborhood Association, headed by resident Paul Francis, sent a 29-page letter to the city on Friday objecting to a draft environmental review of the Deer Creek Village project.
Critics of the Lowe’s-anchored project on North McDowell Boulevard turned out in force Monday night, urging the City Council to take a closer look at the impacts of the 344,000-square-foot proposed development.
The council seemed to agree the environmental review was lacking in some areas, notably with regard to traffic, noise and air quality impacts.
Council members were still discussing the issues late Monday. Staff recommended they accept comments, which the final EIR would respond to, and begin working toward finalizing the document.
David Keller, a former councilman, called the draft EIR insufficient.
“I’m sorry to say this is one of the most flawed and deficient EIRs I’ve ever seen,” he said.
He and other speakers complained the traffic and flooding studies were inadequate or based on outdated or inaccurate numbers.
The environmental report determined the traffic and air quality impacts were significant and unavoidable, adding to congestion to the already busy East Washington Street/McDowell Boulevard interchange.
Councilmembers asked staff to return with more “feasible mitigation measures” to lessen the impacts.
The developer, Merlone Geier Partners of San Francisco, say its project will bring about 300 construction and another 500 permanent jobs to Petaluma, along with the city’s only home improvement warehouse.
They say the center would generate about $1 million annually in sales taxes and property taxes for Petaluma, which is cutting $4 million to balance its $32.5 million general fund budget.
But in a letter sent Friday to City Hall, the Petaluma Neighborhood Association’s lawyers said the draft EIR is “wholly inadequate” under state environmental laws. The association contends the document is insufficient in analyses of traffic and air quality, and that the project is inconsistent with the city’s 2008 general plan.
“It must be thoroughly revised to provide analysis of, and mitigation for, all of the project’s impacts,” the letter states. “This revision will necessarily require that the EIR be recirculated for further public review. Until this EIR has been revised and recirculated, the project may not lawfully be approved.”
The council didn’t address the letter on Monday night.
Terry Watt, an urban planner from San Francisco who said she was representing the neighborhood association, said Monday the project was “flatly inconsistent with the general plan,” while calling for a mixed-use residential-retail project at the site.
The draft EIR is tentatively set to be completed next month, with responses to questions raised during the review.
The Planning Commission is tentatively set to review the final EIR in June, followed by the council in July. If the final EIR is certified, the project would then go back to the Planning Commission in August for site-plan and architectural review.
If the project is approved, Merlone Geier has said Lowe’s and some other stores could be open in 2012 with other office space built in the next two to four years.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story did not fully describe a $150,000 settlement received by the Petaluma Neighborhood Association in exchange for dropping its opposition to the Target-anchored East Washington Place shopping center.
In the settlement, developer Regency Centers agreed to pay PNA leaders $100,000 and provide an additional $50,000 for the group’s legal fees. An additional $32,000 paid the city’s legal costs and $40,000 went toward traffic improvements on East Washington or in the nearby East D Street neighborhood.