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The developer of the Deer Creek Village project, Merlone Geier Partners, announced Monday afternoon that it has signed a long-term lease agreement with Friedman's, the Petaluma-grown home improvement store.

The announcement comes just two weeks before the Feb. 27 City Council meeting, where an important project approval — that of the environmental impact report —is scheduled to be considered.

"We're returning to our roots," said Bill Friedman, Chairman and CEO of Friedman's Home Improvement, in a statement Monday. He called the return to Petaluma a "longtime dream" of three generations of Friedmans.

He added that development could begin this summer if the project is approved, with Friedman's opening for business in the summer of 2013.

"We are very excited with a partnership that will bring Friedman's back to Petaluma,"said Greg Geersten, partner and project manager for Merlone Geier, also in a statement Monday.

Ever since Lowe's Home Improvement pulled out of the project in October, it has been unclear what home improvement store would the fill the main storefront space in the Deer Creek Village development, planned for the east side of town.

When Lowe's backed out, Councilmembers Mike Healy and Chris Albertson called the void a great opportunity for Friedman's to return to Petaluma.

Friedman's quickly expressed interest in the spot, though The Home Depot also indicated interest.

Friedman's originated in Petaluma back in 1946, when brothers Benny and Joe founded it. The company left town in 1976 after its lease ran out, and shortly after, a fire destroyed the building it had occupied. Ironically, Benny Friedman once owned part of the land that Deer Creek Village is developing, said Friedman's Chief Financial Officer David Proctor in an earlier interview.

Friedman's currently has locations in Santa Rosa, Sonoma and Ukiah and has for many years been seeking a way to return to its roots.

In 2009, Friedman's signed a non-binding letter of agreement to be part of the Target-anchored Regency Centers development.

Those plans fell through in late 2010, when Friedman's heard from the Regency Centers developers that they were not able to accommodate the store at the site.

Earlier, the company had proposed a store on Hopper Street, near the city's former sewer plant. Those plans failed because of concerns about the location and the time needed to decommission the plant and build the store.

Friedman's also previously set its sights on Deer Creek Village, entering into early negotiations with the developer. Ultimately, though, the developer chose Lowe's.

"We believe we'd take good care of Petaluma," Proctor said in an earlier interview, adding that the company supports agriculture and commercial builders in addition to those working on home projects.

Also in the press release issued Monday, Onita Pellegrini, CEO of the Petaluma Area Chamber of Commerce, urged the city to approve the project's EIR, saying it will create jobs, help the local economy and bring Friedman's back to town.

Petaluma hasn't had a home improvement store that caters to large-scale projects since 2009. Yardbirds, the Petaluma-based chain that had served the town, had been purchased by Home Depot in 2005. In 2009, Home Depot closed all its Yardbirds stores.

Deer Creek Village plans call for a home improvement store to be at the heart of nearly 350,000 square feet of retail and office space. The development is proposed to sit on 36.5 acres of land that is currently vacant on North McDowell Boulevard between Lynch Creek Way and Rainier Avenue.

The Planning Commission voted in January to recommend against the Council approving the project's EIR, a decision based largely on concerns over traffic impacts. The EIR will go before the City Council on Monday, Feb. 27.

(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@arguscourier.com)