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Petaluma group drops opposition to Friedman’s project

By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A Petaluma group agreed Friday to drop its opposition to the Friedman’s-anchored Deer Creek Village shopping center in exchange for nearly $200,000 in concessions from the developer.

The six-figure settlement is the second the Petaluma Neighborhood Association has achieved in its opposition to large-scale developments in Sonoma County’s second-largest city. The money is earmarked for street, bike, pedestrian and traffic improvements, three community groups and the PNA’s legal costs.

Artist's rendering of proposed Friedman's Home Improvement store in Petaluma.

In 2010, the loosely organized group forced a three-way settlement with the city and developers of the Target shopping center, which netted the two leaders of the group $100,000 and paid $50,000 toward their legal fees. It also required the developer, Regency Centers, to pay the city’s legal fees related to the PNA suit and another one Regency had filed.

Merlone Geier Partners said the $191,000 settlement announced Friday will head off an expected lawsuit that would have further delayed the project and cost perhaps several hundred thousand dollars in legal fees.

During the planning process, a law firm hired by the PNA, headed by Petaluman Paul Francis, filed several letters of opposition in connection with various aspects of the Deer Creek proposal.

The latest settlement, reached Friday afternoon, calls for the PNA to drop its appeal, scheduled to be considered at Monday’s City Council meeting. The group was asking the City Council to overturn the Planning Commission’s latest approvals of the project’s design.

The City Council had already approved the main planning hurdles, including an environmental impact report for the 36.5-acre, 344,000-square-foot shopping center along North McDowell Boulevard at Rainier Avenue.

When completed, it will be the city’s second-largest shopping center, slightly smaller than the Target center currently under construction on East Washington Street along Highway 101.

“In this tough economy, no one stands to benefit from project delays and a lawsuit,” Greg Geertsen, managing director of Merlone Geier, said in a written statement.

“An agreement has been reached that ensures Friedman’s returns to its hometown, 800 jobs and millions of dollars in additional city revenue that can help rebuild Petaluma’s roads and help protect its neighborhoods and schools.”

Francis said he and Geertsen had been negotiating for about two weeks on the agreement, which calls for Merlone Geier to fund $110,000 in improvements to the Lynch Creek bike and pedestrian trail, traffic calming measures on Rushmore Avenue, and crosswalks and pedestrian signals at Rainier Avenue and Maria Drive.

“Greg brought some really good ideas to the table, and after talking with a few of the neighbors, we came to an agreement that we feel is a win-win for all parties involved,” Francis said in an email.

The basic premise of the final agreement was “to make the project more pedestrian accessible, hence more viable in the long-term for our community,” he said, while “at the same time lessen the impacts on the surrounding neighborhood.”

It also obligates the developer to pay $36,000 to the PNA’s law firm, $30,000 to a city tree planting fund, $25,000 to the Petaluma River Heritage Center and $10,000 to Heritage Homes of Petaluma.

Part of the 2010 agreement between the PNA and Regency called for Regency to make a few minor changes to its project, including some traffic mitigations on East D Street.

City Councilman Mike Healy, a longtime supporter of Deer Creek Village, said he was pleased the project can start construction but worries the PNA’s success in obtaining settlements with developers damages the city’s reputation in business circles.

“I am concerned that Petaluma now has a situation where a project proponent can spend years getting their city approvals and then face a gauntlet of private litigants with their hands out,” he said.

“It made perfect business sense for Friedman’s and Merlone Geier to cut this deal and avoid a year of litigation and lawyer’s fees, but it doesn’t help Petaluma’s reputation as a place to do business,” he said.

Some supporters of East Washington Place and Deer Creek Village have called the PNA’s methods extortion.

Francis declined to address those charges.

“I have nothing to say about those who persistently want to put a negative spin on citizens who choose to be engaged in the public process,” he said. “We have a lot of support from the neighborhood and those in the community who support our actions.”

Janice Cader-Thompson, a former councilwoman, also challenged the project through land-use lawyers.

She, too, reached agreements with Merlone Geier on neighborhood improvements, including a fence that will shield neighbors from the shopping center.





9 Responses to “Petaluma group drops opposition to Friedman’s project”

  1. bill me says:

    @ Bear-so now Friedman’s is a “big box store?”. And I suppose all of the mom and pop stores (that Paul Francis and his supporters favor)pay their part time workers big salaries with full benefits to sell their small store products? Give me a break. 800 new jobs is way better than not having them. and if you want an ATV park, post up your money and make Merlone Geier an offer to sell you the property and build it.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  2. Camino Alto says:

    Peter, I agree with you completely. Surprised? Because the only way that a developer could win against any EIR legal challenge is if the EIR was done right. The Target project had a bad EIR and this one is 100x worse. My only fault with PNR is that they didn’t have the cojones to see the lawsuit through and make things right.

    Mc – You speak of the 800 pound gorilla in the room that nobody talks about. Thank you.

    Where are people supposed to come up with all the extra money to spend at these places? The money is just redirected from elsewhere. Most the money spent at Petaluma’s two new shopping centers will come at the expense of existing Petaluma businesses. It’s called cannibalization.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 26

  3. Peter says:

    I would LOVE to see a developer come in an go toe to toe with Petaluma Neighborhood Association and win, costing those PNA people hundreds of thousands of dollars that would hopefully bankrupt them personally and put them and their family’s out of this once nice town.

    Extortion is a nice word for it, their motives are plainly money for themselves and pet projects that are already dragging the city towards bankruptcy. Its the people like them that are ruining this town.

    Thumb up 29 Thumb down 6

  4. Paul Andersen says:

    Apparently, everyone has a price. It was $200,000 for the self-appointed guardians of Petaluma’s future.

    I don’t know who’s more at fault here: the do-gooders who use the legal process when they don’t get the votes from our elected officials or the developers that throw some money their way to get them of their back and kick the can down the road for next poor guy.

    What a charade.

    Thumb up 29 Thumb down 4

  5. Mc says:

    By what kind of magic do people have more money to spend just because there’s a new strip mall in town? Or, is the money they will spend there simply money they will *not* spend elsewhere?

    Big box stores have little-to-no effect on city revenues in a down economy; The new tax revenue is offset by loss of old revenue sources when exisitng business are forced to close their doors.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 27

  6. bear says:

    So anything that generates any low-wage employment of any kind is good anywhere?

    How generous of you all. Where do you live, because I have great ideas for generating low-wage employment next door.

    There is a desperate need for motocross and ATV tracks. And wedding venues with amplified music until 2 am.

    Traffic? Not my problem.

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  7. Terry says:

    Extortion pure and simple. This is what Petaluma and Santa Rosa are becoming…a hotbed of extortion by so called environmental or NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) interests. From yesterday’s PD article, I imagine the same thing is now happening to BoDean in Santa Rosa even though this company is an environmental advocate.

    Thumb up 34 Thumb down 8

  8. GAJ says:

    Traffic and pedestrian mitigations are the responsibility of the City.

    To put another layer of “that’s not enough, I want mine” on projects is a new level of insanity.

    No mention of the group’s alleged concerns about flooding.

    I’m guessing they were fabricated to apply pressure.

    Extortion is right.

    Thumb up 34 Thumb down 7

  9. Camino Alto says:

    This is more of a sellout than the Target shopping center debacle.

    The Deer Creek project EIR has huge gaping holes of missing information in air quality and flooding/wetlands. The use of a Rainier Avenue cross-town connector (to be built no earlier than 2020) for traffic relief lies somewhere between ill-advised and illegal. Anybody know where Petaluma is going to find the 50 to 100 million to build it?

    I am all for Friedman’s building a store in Petaluma. Just not there.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 34

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