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Petaluma puts off hearing on controversial shopping center plan

After receiving hundreds of pages of documents in the past week protesting the proposed Deer Creek Village shopping center, the Petaluma City Council on Monday night agreed to postpone a critical hearing on the project.

The council was set to evaluate the final environmental impact report on the shopping center, essentially the deciding factor on whether the project will be allowed.

But two large document submissions came in from law firms representing neighborhood groups that oppose the center, raising the specter of lawsuits.

Deer Creek Village is planned as 344,000 square feet of retail, recreational and office uses at North McDowell Boulevard and Rainier Avenue. Friedman's Home Improvement this month signed a long-term lease to become the anchor tenant, replacing Lowe's, which pulled out in October.

Holding up a 3-inch-thick stack of papers Monday night, City Attorney Eric Danly said he was ready to recommend delaying the hearing based on the "extensive number of documents and comments and attachments and facts" submitted between last Tuesday and 4:15 p.m. Monday — just more than two hours before the hearing was to begin.

But shortly before 6 p.m., developer Merlone Geier Partners of San Francisco agreed with Danly's assessment and asked the council to postpone the hearing until the documents could be reviewed.

The council voted 6-1, with Councilwoman Teresa Barrett dissenting, to delay the hearing to 6 p.m. April 2.

Merlone Geier spokesman Marko Mlikotin said the decision was disappointing but came "out of an abundance of caution and fear of potential litigation."

The city received 74 pages of arguments against the project on Feb. 21 from the Petaluma Neighborhood Association, which had sued the city to try to stop the now-approved East Washington Place shopping center that will include a Target store.

A law firm representing ex-Councilwoman Janice Cader-Thompson, her husband and the Park Place Neighborhood Association submitted more than 100 pages Friday.

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