Homes dropped from retail development
Shopping center developer bows to pressure, removes 227 townhouses
By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Bending to political and environmental pressures, the developers of a controversial Petaluma shopping center and housing project are dropping the residential component of their plan.
Bruce Qualls, vice president of the Walnut Creek-based Regency Centers, said Friday the 37-acre project west of Highway 101 at East Washington Street will not include 227 town houses as previously planned.
Instead, Qualls said additional offices will go up alongside retail tenants such as Target, Borders, Circuit City and Cost Plus World Market.
Environmental studies showed the town houses would suffer noise and air quality issues near the freeway and generate too much traffic. Meetings with community groups confirmed the housing was unpopular, Qualls said.
“We felt the best way to address it was to remove the residential,” Qualls said.
Now, Regency Centers, which bought the land in 2004 for $22 million from Petaluma City Schools, will prepare a revised project description and site plan in the coming weeks, Qualls said.
It also will conduct a supplemental study to its draft environmental report, which has been circulating since February.
After more public hearings and approval of Petaluma’s new general plan, which has effectively put all development on hold, construction on the Regency Centers project could start in the spring of 2008 with an opening in the summer of 2009, Qualls said.
“I know we can ameliorate many of the environmental issues,” Qualls said.
The project, dubbed East Washington Place, was inspired in part by the city’s interest in generating sales tax revenue and preventing “leakage” of tax dollars to other towns.
When school officials announced they wanted to move the Kenilworth Junior High campus east of the freeway, the city encouraged Regency Centers to buy the property for retail development.
Mayor Pam Torliatt said the town houses came along as a response to the mixed-use property zoning but also as a money-maker for the developer.
Torliatt said the homes were not well-integrated in the design, which contained other disappointments, such as the failure to make the existing pedestrian freeway overpass more central to the shopping center.
Torliatt said she hopes the developers revamp the entire project, possibly collaborating with the neighboring Sonoma-Marin Fair to redesign the area.
“From the get-go, I have been encouraging Regency to heavily to change the design of their site plan,” Torliatt said. “And I believe that’s what the community is asking.”
Councilman David Rabbitt said he also thought the town houses were in a bad spot. He said they could be replaced by more retail or commercial space and maybe small business incubator spaces with combination office-warehouses.
Regency Centers has said it would incorporate green technology such as solar power, water conservation measures and native landscaping.
“They need to step up and do something with pizazz,” Rabbitt said.