Plans for a Target store at Coddingtown mall cleared a key hurdle Thursday when the Santa Rosa Planning Commission granted a permit for the big-box retailer.
Commissioners said they welcomed what would be Target's second Santa Rosa location and hoped it would help revitalize the 1960s-era mall, which is trying to attract more popular tenants.
"You can't build it fast enough for me," said Patti Cisco, commission chairwoman.
The project was approved on a 4-0 vote. It now heads to the Design Review Board June 21.
The 143,000-square-foot, single-story building would replace the vacant two-story former Gottschalks department store building, which would be demolished. It would also replace some smaller shops on the mall's southern end. The store will employ 200 to 250 people.
The project faced little opposition and planning staff recommended approval. A department store is consistent with the general commercial zoning in the area, but projects over 50,000 square feet need use permits.
The city received two letters on the project, both supportive. Ben Johnson, who grew up in Santa Rosa and now lives in Seattle, wrote of his fond memories getting ice cream at the mall as a youngster and working at Wetzel's Pretzels as a teen. He said he is saddened to see the high vacancy rates at the mall today.
"I truly believe this is what Coddingtown needs in order to get back to the days where people flocked to the mall in high numbers," Johnson wrote.
Marty Bennett, co-chair of the Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County, spoke against the project. He claimed it would create 200 "low-wage jobs," most with no health benefits. He urged the city to complete a community impact report on the project.
But John Dewes, a Target official, said 60 percent of its workers are full-time and receive benefits, and the rest are part-timers, about half of whom also get some benefits. He also said the store would have less than 10,000-square-feet for groceries for sale, calling it a "incidental use."
Because Gottschalks was two floors and Target will be just one, the project will result in a net reduction in retail space at Coddingtown, according to city planner Bill Rose.
"Greater Coddingtown will actually be smaller by about 60,000 square feet," Rose said.
The staff report praised the building for its "tasteful design" that will incorporate elements that add "character and definition" to the building.
The project would have 327 parking spaces and feature a loading bay for four trucks on the east side of the building.
In a preliminary review, the design review board has suggested Target consider several revisions, including screening the delivery areas, adding more benches and planters, installing wider sidewalks and creating an outdoor plaza.