By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Petaluma planning commissioners rejected the final environmental impact report on the proposed Deer Creek Village shopping center in a meeting Tuesday that lasted until midnight.
The wide-ranging, four-hour discussion often strayed from the task of determining whether the report was sufficient to recommend certification by the City Council. But ultimately, five of the six commissioners present determined the report was inadequate.
Only Gabe Kearney, the City Council liaison to the commission, found the report complete.
It now heads to the City Council, which will decide whether to certify the report. An affirmative vote would give the project its overall approval, although the project would return to planners for approval of architectural details.
The report evaluated environmental impacts of the proposed 36.5-acre shopping center at Rainier Avenue and North McDowell Boulevard. It is proposed to include 344,000 square feet of commercial space, mostly retail, and a gym, banks, offices and restaurants.
A home-improvement center is planned as the primary tenant with other smaller anchors. Lowe’s, the long-planned anchor, pulled out of the project in October, citing city delays in approving the project. The timing also coincided with Lowe’s closure of underperforming stores nationwide.
Developers Merlone Geier Partners of San Francisco are in negotiations with Sonoma-based Friedman’s Home Improvement and Home Depot to occupy the main anchor site.
Aside from Kearney, the other commissioners — Jennifer Pierre, Dennis Elias, Melissa Abercrombie, Alicia Kae Herries and Bill Wolpert — said the report failed to consider two important traffic impacts: whether a long-planned Rainier freeway interchange with 101 was a “reasonably forseeable” project and the cumulative traffic impacts if the only Rainier project built is a cross-town connector under the freeway.
Kearney said his vote was based on current conditions, not speculation about Rainier’s future build-out.
“I’m not going to make a decision based on whether or not it’s going to happen,” he said, saying he didn’t think that would hold up legally. “You don’t make a decision on this project based on the Rainier funding.”
Assistant City Attorney Leslie Thomsen earlier advised commissioners not to base their decisions on speculation about Rainier’s funding sources.
“The applicant is entitled to have the project reviewed on existing conditions,” she said.
The city has for three decades anticipated some kind of construction at Rainier, either an overcrossing, an undercrossing or a full freeway interchange. The city committed $7 million last year toward the planning and design of an undercrossing and an interchange remains on the wish-list.
But commissioners were bothered by Rainier’s uncertain funding because much of it was anticipated to come from redevelopment funds. A recent state Supreme Court decision is forcing the dissolution of redevelopment agencies statewide and the future of planned projects is unclear.
Herries called the report “distressingly inadequate” based on incomplete assumptions, outdated data, unknowns and minimized factors.
Pierre remained concerned about traffic impacts the shopping center would have on nearby roads, intersections and neighborhood streets.
Elias had several concerns including Rainier funding, whether the project was truly mixed-use, storm water retention and traffic and air quality impacts.
The EIR identified air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, traffic and cumulative traffic noise as “significant but unavoidable” impacts of the project and others planned in the area.
Environmental laws say that if the specific economic, legal, social, technological or other benefits of the proposed project outweigh the unavoidable adverse environmental effects, the environmental effects may be considered acceptable.
No date has been set for City Council consideration, but that could come in the next few months.