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A proposed north Petaluma shopping center with a Lowe's home improvement store at its heart is about a year behind schedule, in part because of additional studies required by the city, the developers said.

City planners recently notified Merlone-Geier Partners, the San Francisco-based developers of the proposed Deer Creek Village shopping center, that a second economic impact study was necessary.

Originally, Merlone-Geier anticipated opening Lowe's in October 2011. A more realistic date is mid-2012, spokesman Marko Mlikotin said.

The draft of a second-tier environmental impact report, which includes focused studies on traffic and potential urban decay the center may cause, should be ready for public comment by the end of August or early September, planner Derek Farmer said.

Deer Creek Village is proposed as 346,000 square feet of new retail, office, health club and restaurant space on a 36.5-acre site, currently vacant, at the southwest corner of Rainier Avenue and North McDowell Boulevard.

The City Council's approval in February of another large-scale development, East Washington Place, where a Target and possibly a Friedman's Home Improvement store are planned, influenced the decision to require additional studies, Farmer said.

"It seemed to be a little more responsible to have an updated analysis done for the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) impacts, to make sure there was enough information for the council to make an educated decision," he said.

"We're taking a look at long-term trends, so we have what we feel is a defensible analysis."

The city was sued twice over the East Washington Place project, by the developers over delays and by a neighborhood opposition group over what it called an inadequate environmental report. In a three-way settlement, the developer, Regency Centers, agreed to pay the group $100,000 and all sides' legal fees.

The first economic study involving Deer Creek, received in early 2009, examined effects the development may have on other retail outlets in Petaluma, but City Manager John Brown said an updated look was prudent given changed economic times.

The second analysis focuses specifically on potential pressures that could be put on existing businesses.

Deer Creek developers had a much quicker timeline in mind for approval. A full environmental impact report wasn't required for the property because city leaders in 2008 had already planned for an even larger shopping center at the location during the general plan update.

"The blight analysis was done," Mlikotin said. "What then was required of us was to do a traffic analysis as a supplemental EIR. .<TH>.<TH>. Then, just as that is to be released, we're informed we had to do another economic analysis.

"It just means further delay," he said. "At the end of the day, we have a project here that has significant economic benefit to city in terms of generating new tax revenue. It has the promise of creating 800 jobs, and all that is being delayed."

Mlikotin said a one-year deadline for the city to act on the application expires "a week after Election Day," which is Nov. 2. That deadline may not be hard and fast, Brown said, and public hearings on the project are tentatively set to begin late this year.

The environmental report is tentatively set to be considered by the Planning Commission in November or December. It will be reviewed by the City Council after that. The architectural review is tentatively set for January or February.

Neither Friedman's nor Regency has submitted an application to the city yet to officially include the Sonoma County-based big-box home improvement outlet in East Washington Place.

The timing of the projects' potential approvals could be critical. Friedman's officials have said they doubt there is room for two home improvement warehouses in Petaluma, while Lowe's representatives have said there is. There are none currently.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.