Petaluma residents appeal Safeway gas station project

The emotional battle over a Safeway gas station project at the Washington Square Shopping Center will now come before the Petaluma City Council after a group of residents on Monday filed an appeal of the planning commission’s decision to approve it last month.

The city’s commissioners green-lit the fueling station on June 26 with a split, 4-3 vote that followed hours of impassioned comments from opponents and prickly exchanges between commission members and Safeway representatives.

Residents near the proposed site, located at the corner of Maria Drive and South McDowell Boulevard, mobilized in the aftermath of the decision and submitted an official appeal this week that forces the city council to step in and either “affirm, affirm in part, or reverse” the decision, according to Chapter 24 of the Implementing Zoning Ordinance.

Resident JoAnn McEachin, the author of the appeal, said she felt “compelled to do something” after the project, which features 16 pumps on eight dispensers, was approved despite heavy opposition.

Opponents have been spotted picketing near the site and, on Sunday, got together to formulate the city’s first appeal in three years.

“I left that meeting fired up,” McEachin said. “Safeway did the bare minimum to appease the planning commission’s conditions.”

The primary criticism of the five-year-old project has been its proximity to multiple primary schools and the health risks associated with being so close to developing children.

Other critics have questioned the need for another gas station, air quality impacts and the potential for additional traffic in one of the most congested areas in the city.

Many of those objections were outlined in the appeal letter signed by 18 citizens.

“I feel the planning commission has been lacking foresight on many issues and … I think they got bullied (on this project),” McEachin said.

Proponents of the gas station, many of whom are fed up with Petaluma’s high costs for gas, welcome a discount alternative.

“The gas station proposal is in response to customer demand,” said Wendy Gutshall, Safeway’s Director of Public Affairs.

The planning commission delayed a decision on the project on May 8 due to Safeway’s poor community outreach before the meeting, and apprehensions about the air quality and traffic data.

During the nearly two months between meetings, Safeway held two public forums, conducted additional studies and hired a local acoustical consultant to address concerns raised by commissioners and school officials.

Still, the planning commission meeting on June 26 was tense throughout. Safeway lawyer Matthew Francois pointed out the city would be exposing itself to litigation if it denied the project, and that moment set the tone for the rest of the night until the commissioners voted to approve it.

“We are hopeful that the City Council will agree with the Planning Commission approval and see that there is no valid basis to deny the project,” Gutshall said.

The last time a planning commission decision was appealed was in 2015, when the city council upheld the decision to permit Village Baptist Church at 3835 Cypress Drive, much to the ire of tenants that were worried about the impact large groups of people might have on a professional building.

(Contact News Editor Yousef Baig at or 776-8461, and on Twitter @YousefBaig.)

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