Despite arguments from big-box opponents, the Petaluma City Council voted 4-2 Monday night to approve a developer's request to resize some of the buildings in the already approved, Target-based East Washington Place shopping center.
Opponents argued that Regency Centers' request to change six mid-size buildings into four larger ones to accommodate potential tenants' needs showed the project is becoming a big-box development not envisioned when it was approved last year.
The council denied Regency's request to add 15 new parking spaces directly in front of two smaller stores, which the developer said was viewed as "critical" by tenants.
Notwithstanding that relatively minor loss, company spokesman Ryan Nickelson said the company will move forward.
"We're going to build a shopping center," he said after the vote.
The requested changes didn't seek to increase the overall square footage of the center, which includes about 378,000 square feet of commercial and office space on almost 34 acres on the former Kenilworth Junior High School site adjacent to Highway 101.
Regency said it needed the changes to land specific tenants, who want the stores' sizes and layouts to be consistent with their other outlets.
Regency is in negotiations with Dick's Sporting Goods, Sunflower Farmers Market, Sprouts Farmers Market and TJ Maxx housewares and clothing stores, Nickelson said. Leases haven't been inked yet.
A 140,000-square-foot Target has long been identified as the main anchor tenant. Monday's vote included the elimination of Target's outdoor garden center, replacing it with an equal amount of indoor retail space.
East Washington Place had a long and sometimes tortuous route to approval. It was first proposed in 2004 at the behest of city leaders and approved on a 5-2 vote in February 2010.
Opponents said they want to protect local stores from being overwhelmed by competition from national chains. They have also argued that Petaluma shouldn't have any more big-box stores and criticized Regency's design, saying it looks like a dated strip mall.
Holly Wick, co-owner of Athletic Soles specialty sports store in downtown Petaluma, called Regency's requests a bait and switch from the original plan.
"This is going to cost us our downtown," she said. "This is going to cost us our community."
Councilwomen Tiffany Renee and Teresa Barrett, who opposed the project in 2010, voted against the proposed changes Monday.
Councilmen Mike Healy, Mike Harris, Chris Albertson and Gabe Kearney voted to allow the modifications.
"I still feel this is the shot in the arm that we need," Harris said. "To me this is a reasonable accommodation."
Regency's request went first to the planning commission, which voted 3-1 on Aug. 23 to approve the modifications with conditions, but four votes were required for approval. Two commissioners recused themselves from the vote because they'd earlier signed a petition against the project.
Regency appealed the decision to the City Council.
On Monday, Mayor David Glass also recused himself. He purchased a large amount of Target stock after the project was approved last year. Council rules prohibit members from voting on projects that could benefit them financially.
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