In a discussion that was more collaborative than confrontational, Petaluma's Planning Commission late Tuesday approved the architectural, parking and sign plans for the Friedman's-anchored Deer Creek Village shopping center.

Applause broke out in the City Council chambers after the 4-1 vote, which approved the site plan and design details for what will become Petaluma's second-largest retail center.

Deer Creek Village is planned as 345,000 square feet of retail, recreational and office uses on 36.5 acres at North McDowell Boulevard and Rainier Avenue. It will be the second-largest center behind East Washington Place, which is under construction now.

The project had faced stiff opposition earlier and some observers expected it receive a chilly welcome before planners.

"We are very excited to bring a project forward .<th>.<th>. that will feature the return of Friedman's Home Improvement to Petaluma," said Mike Grehl, a vice president of developer Merlone Geier Partners of San Francisco.

Friedman's signed a long-term lease to return to the city of its birth. Its site will include a 78,000-square-foot main store and a 35,000-square-foot lumber shed.

The front of the store is planned to have two 35-foot-tall "living walls" covered in live greenery that will be fed and watered automatically. Two similar 16-foot walls will bracket the entrance to the 20,000-square-foot nursery.

Commissioner Alicia Kae Herries voted against the designs, saying she believed the project violates the city's general plan, isn't truly a mixed-use development and relies too heavily on approval of the unfunded Rainier Avenue interchange with Highway 101.

Commissioners Jennifer Pierre, Melissa Abercrombie, Ray Johnson and City Council liaison Gabe Kearney voted in favor of the design, with conditions. Commissioner Bill Wolpert recused himself because he'd written a letter of opposition to the City Council about the project and Commissioner Dennis Elias was absent.

The commission recommended developers increase landscaping along McDowell, make greater distinctions between three smaller major tenants, be sensitive to neighbors with the lighting and signs. Merlone Geier also agreed to build a fence for residents whose yards face the center.

Developers plan to build the center in two phases over two years, with Friedman's going in first. The hope is for Friedman's to open in the fourth quarter of 2013.