Some eastside Petaluma residents who may have been on the fence about the new Friedman's-anchored Deer Creek Village shopping center are singing a new tune this week, thanks to the new fence being installed next to their homes along North McDowell Boulevard in the Park Place neighborhood.

"It really looks nice and the neighbors are all really happy," said neighborhood resident, and former opponent of the shopping center project, Janice Cader-Thompson. "It adds value to the neighborhood. You drive up and notice it and it looks really clean and safe. It's a better mix with our new neighbors, Deer Creek."

The fence was part of a $191,000 settlement agreement the Petaluma Neighborhood Association made with developer Merlone Geier Partners after the project was approved. Landscaping and sprinkler systems will also be installed along North McDowell Boulevard.

After the Petaluma City Council approved the Deer Creek Village shopping center in April, 2012 the association threatened a lawsuit against the project, citing inadequate traffic and environmental mitigations. But after Merlone Geier agreed to several concessions, including the new fence, a lighted crosswalk at Rushmore and Rainier avenues, new landscaping on North McDowell Boulevard to reduce sound and the protection of an oak tree on the Deer Creek Village site, the neighborhood association dropped its lawsuit.

"I'm hoping the city will learn from this experience," said Cader-Thompson. "This fence isn't only good for the neighbors, it's good for the community. I hope the city will do an ordinance that aims to update fence lines in town so that fences in the public view aren't haphazardly put up."

The new fence boasts bright wooden slats that stand out drastically when compared to the 35-year-old former fence, which was rotted, discolored and falling over in some places. It stretches along North McDowell Boulevard, offering a buffer from noise and traffic to the homes that sit along the arterial roadway. In addition to the fence, the walls and roof of the coming Friedman's Home Improvement store have been raised, frontage roadwork has moved forward and sidewalks have been installed. Merlone Geier Managing Director Greg Geertsen said he pleased the project is moving forward.

"The landscaping along the fence should start up very soon and will look very nice once it's all completed," said Geertsen, who expects the new neighborhood fence to be finished by the end of the month and the accompanying landscaping to be completed in February.

As for Deer Creek Village itself, Geertsen said he hopes the center will open in March — depending on the weather.

"We're in a critical stage," he added. "If the weather stays dry, then March is a good date to plan for. But if we get a bunch of bad weather, it could move us into April. The best guess is sometime between March and May 1."

Currently, City Sports, Togo's, Habit Burger and Mary's Pizza Shack have announced plans to open alongside Friedman's. That still leaves 135,700 square feet of retail and office space available for lease. Merlone-Geier hasn't said whether it has signed any new leases since earlier this year.

Cader-Thompson said she is looking forward to the day the project opens. "For those whose backyards are right next to North McDowell Boulevard, we're really excited," she said. "I am looking forward to being at the ribbon-cutting."