Residents in Petaluma, California think a Florida developer’s proposed Target retail complex is just “Peta-looney,” and they’re organizing to block it. Residents sent Sprawl-Busters the following account from the East Washington neighborhood in Petaluma: “The property was purchased by Regency Centers. I’m sure you’ve heard of these heavy hitters. Hap Stein is the CEO of this Jacksonville, Florida-based firm, a national developer and owner of 260 community and neighborhood shopping centers valued at $3.2 billion and totaling 29.5 million sq.ft. The project, named the “East Washington Place,” is a large development situated between the Sonoma County Fair grounds site and HWY101 on East Washington St. The parcel of land consisting of 37.28 acres, is also located in the area known as “the old eastside neighborhood,” a quiet residential neighborhood with a charming hometown feel. The neighborhood is also home to a small barbershop, a locally owned nursery, a small daycare center, and, of course, the corner bar “Mario and John’s.” The neighborhood has historical significance: many of
the houses were built in the early part of the 20th century. My house, for instance, a charming California Bungalow, was built in 1915. In 2003 the City of Petaluma, along with the Petaluma Chamber of Commerce, hired a consulting firm (Thomas Consulting, Vancouver, BC) to conduct a study to determine the amount of retail leakage the city of Petaluma was losing. In the study the consulting firm interviewed 400 people, out of 50,000 residents, and asked them where they liked to shop. They also made comparisons to nearby areas with completely differing demographics than Petaluma. Their conclusion was that Petaluma needed more big box stores! Totally erroneous in my opinion. This brings us into the nightmare that we have today. With the threat of big box developments looming, Petaluma is in jeopardy of losing its historic downtown shopping district, which is mostly comprised of locally-owned, small independent shop-owners. The “East Washington Place Project” as proposed: 37.28 acre parcel consisting of six big box stores and 227 condos. At this time, the committed tenants include Target, slated to be the major anchor in the 123,800 sq ft space, plus adjoining garden center; Circuit City in the 33,862 sq ft space adjacent to Target; a major chain bookstore in a 21,000 square foot space, and Cost Plus
World Market, a specialty general merchandise store, in the 18,300 sq ft space. Two Large anchor spaces of approx. 20,000 sq ft have not reported a tenant commitment. The Draft Environmental Impact report has been released for review. The Project Plan has been submitted and, pending the approval of the Final EIR, is ready to move forward thru the planning process.”
Residents in Petaluma are going to need a land use attorney to help them frame the legal issues as they go through the state and local review process with this proposal. Clearly the city wants the project: they laid the groundwork for it with the “leakage” study. Instead of looking at how to retain more retail sales with smaller developments consistent with the rest of the city, officials are reaching to the national chains. This is like calling an arsonist to a fire.
The scale and design of this project is classic highway-oriented sprawl, and has no place in Petaluma. Target doesn’t build as many stores per year as Wal-Mart, and has a phony “upscale” image — both factors in why the Minnesota-based company is not in the headlines as much as its larger rival, Wal-Mart, which is roughly 5 times bigger as a corporation. But the residents of Petaluma will have to challenge this project legally, because they clearly can’t rely on the city to represent their interests as homeowners. They should start with the city’s Master plan. For local contacts in Petaluma, contact [email protected]