Planners reject Deer Creek study

Concerns over the long-awaited Rainier Avenue interchange and freeway undercrossing caused the planning commission to reject the final environmental impact report for Deer Creek Village on Tuesday night.

In a meeting that lasted almost five hours, commissioners discussed a range of concerns raised in the first round of environmental review, like traffic delays, flooding potential and noise.

But when the commissioners decided in a 5-1 vote not to recommend that the City Council approve the report, it was issues with Rainier that they said made the report deficient.

In particular, commissioners said the report didn't consider whether the Highway 101 interchange would be built in a "reasonably forseeable timeframe," as some say it won't due to a lack of funding.

They also said the report should have studied what the impacts to traffic would be if only the cross-town connector, or underpass connecting east and west Petaluma, was built, and not the full interchange.

Those costly projects would be partially funded through redevelopment money, but that money is expected to go away due to the state Supreme Court's recent decision that California can eliminate its redevelopment agencies. $7.3 million is currently set aside to begin work on the cross-town connector, but that is just a fraction of the amount needed to complete the connector or the full interchange project.

Gabe Kearney, the new council liaison to the commission, was the only one to cast a dissenting vote. He questioned denying the report based on speculation that the Rainier project might not happen, when other projects have been approved on the expectation that Rainier would be built.

The Rainier interchange and cross-town connector was included in the general plan decades ago. Kearney also pointed out that the city's General Plan still calls for the Rainier Project, and that the commission's job was to ensure that the report was in line with the general plan.

Assistant City Attorney Leslie Thomsen also suggested that commissioners not base their decision on speculation over funding for Rainier.

The developers, Merlone Geier Partners, still believe the report is adequate, said spokesman Marko Mlikotin, adding that city staff had recommended the report be approved.

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