Petaluma mall owner sues city over zoning amendment he says botched Home Depot deal

The owner of the Plaza North Mall has filed a lawsuit against the City of Petaluma after city leaders approved and passed a zoning amendment this summer that would have led Home Depot to withdraw from an occupancy proposal of part of the shopping center.

Charles Syers, owner of the 19-acre mall property on North McDowell Boulevard in Petaluma, filed a formal lawsuit Aug. 24 in Sonoma County Superior Court seeking an injunction to stay the amendment, which requires a further environmental scrutiny before commercial businesses can lock down retail space over 25,000 square feet.

Syers is also seeking compensation associated with legal damages because he asserted that the zoning change violates California’s Environmental Quality Act, the city’s general plan and his rights as a landlord, according to the complaint.

The amendment also reflects an abuse of the city’s police powers, according to the complaint, because it interfered with the contract it had established with Home Depot.

In the complaint, Syers called the city’s approval of the rezoning “hasty, reckless and illegal” and asked that it be declared void and invalid.

“The (city’s) enactment of the zoning change will result in a significant decline in business activity, job opportunities, and a significant loss of tax revenue that will otherwise benefit the city and the community as a whole,” says the complaint. “The (city’s) actions will have a huge detrimental economic effect and devaluation of the mall.”

The 90,000-square-foot building, which was Kmart’s longtime home before it closed in 2020, would have been the first subject of a full environmental review under the amendment, as Home Depot Inc. eyed the flagship building .

In February 2021, Syers and Home Depot entered into a lease agreement for the space, and store officials submitted an application to the city in November for approval to demolish the original building and build a new one. 107,891 square foot main building and 28,216 square foot garden centre.

A month later, according to the complaint, city staff deemed the application “incomplete,” citing the need to complete studies of potential impacts, including traffic, air and noise studies.

“(Home Depot) repeatedly attempted to respond to the city’s requests for ‘more information’ through repeated submissions, but the city persisted in requesting additional information, which had nothing to do with the request. “said Syers in the complaint.

The amendment, which requires large commercial businesses to obtain a conditional use permit from the city’s Planning Commission, was introduced without any formal notice to him or Home Depot, Syers said in the complaint.

The ordinance was first approved in July and officially passed on August 1. Its passage was applauded by residents and advocates who said it would help bring the city closer to achieving carbon neutral goals by putting controls on large stores that have the potential to bring traffic and impacts air pollution over the city.

In the complaint, Syers claimed that the new zoning ordinance would create “further hurdles, delays and burdens” and add at least one to two years of additional delay to the completion of the project.

He alleged the ordinance was created as a way to “protect Friedman’s,” which offers home improvement services and supplies less than a mile down the road, and to ultimately prevent Home Depot from expanding into Petaluma area.

But city officials said Syers’ claims lacked merit and the new zoning ordinance had a “solid legal basis.”

“The zoning amendment does not prohibit a use where the use was previously permitted, but requires the Planning Commission to conclude that the proposed use is not a public nuisance and injurious to the community”, said Assistant City Attorney Dylan Brady. email Tuesday.

Plaza North Mall is home to more than two dozen businesses, including Don Pancho Mexican Restaurant, Hunan Village Restaurant, and Club Pilates. Many expressed support for the Home Depot addition because of the foot traffic they said it would bring to their stores.

Amelia Parreira is an editor for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at [email protected] or 707-521-5208.