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Argus-Courier Editorial

Anti-development reputation wanes

Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 5:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 5:33 p.m.

Is Petaluma’s reputation for opposing big development projects beginning to ebb?

Some of the city’s most hard-fought political battles have been waged over large-scale development projects, including the Target-anchored East Washington Place shopping center and, more recently, the Deer Creek Village shopping center now under construction. Despite the fact that both projects were favored by a large majority of residents, each generated fierce and vocal opposition, prompting many years of public hearings, numerous reports, even threats of lawsuits before they were finally approved on split votes by the Petaluma City Council. Such protests helped earned the city a reputation as being anti-development.

But such acrimony over large-scale development projects appears to be waning. In a marked departure from the acrimonious public hearings of the past, Monday evening’s city council review of the 39-acre Riverfront development, which includes 273 homes, a 120-room hotel, 60,000 square feet of office space, and 30,000 square feet of retail, produced not a single objection by members of the public. During last month’s planning commission meeting to review the project’s environmental impact report, only a few people spoke and narrowed their comments to a single issue: construction worker safety on the site.

For a project of this magnitude to effectively generate zero opposition is extraordinary in Petaluma, a city where, historically, local city council elections have frequently been decided on public perceptions of over-development.

Perhaps the dearth of opposition is due to the fact that, other than the two shopping centers, relatively little construction has occurred locally since the Great Recession began in 2007, and that concerns about jobs has overtaken apprehension over new development. Results from a recent city poll on a proposed sales tax measure appear to support that argument: While 46 percent of Petaluma residents believe “too much growth and development” is either a very serious or somewhat serious problem, a strong 61 percent of residents believe that the “availability of stable, good paying local jobs” is of greater concern.

The Basin Street project’s forecast of creating 500 permanent jobs and 2,000 temporary construction jobs is, therefore, very welcome news to a solid majority of residents.

More specifically, the fact that this large development has generated no opposition is largely due to the developer, Basin Street Properties, giving the city everything it wants, among them a hotel.

City officials have made clear they want more hotels built locally, since such developments generate both transient occupancy tax as well as sales tax from visitors shopping at local stores.

The city also wants more parks. The Riverfront project includes a four-acre park complete with a playing field.

The city wants a public boathouse. The project will dedicate land for just such a facility.

Most importantly, the city wants mixed-use developments, defined in the city’s General Plan as a “a robust combination of uses, including retail, residential, service commercial, and/or offices,” with a focus on walkability.

A large portion of downtown and several sites along Lakeville Street, including the Riverfront project site, are designated mixed-use. This was done in an effort to densely develop the downtown and adjacent sites to take advantage of limited land availability in a city with an urban growth boundary that encourages city-centered growth.

The public’s acceptance of the Riverfront project is a good sign that Petaluma is not only strengthening and diversifying its economy, but is achieving the goals of the city’s General Plan by working in partnership with developers to give the community what its residents want and need.

It’s these kinds of achievements – coupled with a streamlined development approval process, a new marketing program to attract businesses and entrepreneurs, and a softening of the city’s previously sky-high development impact fees – that have begun to enhance Petaluma’s reputation throughout the region.

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