22 Aug 2014
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Planning Commission Rejects Deer Creek Final Impact Report

Says uncertain funding for Rainier undercrossing means the full impact of traffic in the area are not known; city council expected to consider project next month

Planning Commission Rejects Deer Creek Final Impact Report Planning Commission Rejects Deer Creek Final Impact Report

The end of redevelopment agencies is having far-reaching impact, including on Deer Creek Village, a proposed shopping center on North McDowell and Rainier Avenue that would bring a home improvement store, at least six new restaurants and other retail to Petaluma’s eastside.

On Tuesday, Petaluma planning commissioners rejected the final environmental impact report for the project in a 5-1 vote, saying the Rainier undercrossing and interchange the project relies on may never get built following the .

Last year, the city set aside $7 million for Rainier through entitlements, but it may never be able to access the funds, since any road improvement project formerly funded by redevelopment monies would now have to be approved by an oversight committee along with the California Department of Finance.

“We have no sense when Rainier is coming or the southern crossing (at Caulfield),” said Commissioner Alicia Kae Herries. “There are so many unknowns impacts and variables, and while we do have retail leakage on home improvement, but we do have numerous vacancies in this city and I think we can fill that gap in any one of those vacant buildings.”

But Gabe Kearney, the city council liaison on the commission, said he was recommending the EIR because the General Plan assumes the construction of Rainier.

“You can’t make a decision based on whether or not it’s going to be funded,” Kearney said. “We’ve been discussing it for 30 plus years and making voting decisions with the idea that it will built. And for us to now say ‘Yes, it’s in the General Plan, but it might not happen, so we aren’t going to allow it for be factored into the EIR, is not acceptable and I think sets a bad precedent.”

The commission’s recommendations will be reviewed by the city council, which will ultimately vote on the project.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the developer, Merlone Geier Partners, of San Francisco, presented the 350,000 square foot project as a destination center for Petaluma’s eastside, that will include a running trail with exercise equipment, a dog park, a summer-time farmer’s market and outdoor dining area and more than 1,000 trees.

It would also create 300 construction and 500 permanent retail jobs and generate $9 million in impact fees, according to Merlone Geier.

“This will be a vibrant and exciting new community center that will provide a sense of place to the eastside,” said Mike Schrock, a landscape architect with San Diego-based Urban Arena.

But Commissioner Bill Wolpert said the project, which would have a parking lot for more than 1,200 cars and not be linked to the Lynch Creek trail, was too car-centric.

“I don’t think of this project as being any different than any other big box stores in town,” Wolpert said. “Yes, there are more trees, but we need better access for pedestrians. If you want to call it a pedestrian-friendly development, then make it a promenade, make walking there the norm instead of relying on a farmers’ market or some car show for foot traffic.”

Other residents said they were concerned about flooding of the site, which is adjacent to Lynch Creek. But Traffic Engineer Curt Bates said that the city has been working with the U.S. Corps of Engineers on flood control projects and that the site is no longer at risk of flooding.

The site didn’t flood in 2005 and 1998, although there are areas of low-lying pockets of land where water collects, Bates said.

At more than 36 acres, the Deer Creek site is one of the city’s last sizeable lots and commissioners said they wanted more out of the development than a collection of stores and office spaces.

“If we’re going to put a project on this land that will have unavoidable impacts, there is a lot more than can be done that enhances it and brings it to a more aesthetic level,” said Commissioner Dennis Elias. “We’re going to live with this project another 100 years, so we have to do it right.” 

CORRECTION: The original story incorrectly stated that the project would generate $9 million a year in impact fees. Impact fees are only paid once. Patch regrets the error.

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