Another odd twist has emerged involving the evolving community planning context of Gateway Center, the 50 acre, big-box strip-mall at Woodland’s eastern edge.

Paul Petrovich, whose Woodland Development Company LLC owns Gateway, has filed an application to “clarify and allow additional flexibility in the nature and types of uses [ ] for the small tenant spaces (under 4000 square feet),” according to the relevant city staff report. “This request is to allow additional professional service uses, as support to the overall center, and to clarify what uses are allowed in the smaller tenant spaces.”

Petrovich is requesting that the center’s conditional use permit “be modified to allow uses that are consistent with the City’s C-1 Neighborhood Commercial Zone[,]” continues this community planning staff report.

City planning staff contends that existing environmental approval for Gateway Center and the need to complete and reinforce project build-out support Petrovich’s application.

This matter is set for public hearing on April 17 before Woodland Planning Commission.

Dozens Of Businesses Involved

City planning staff indicates that Gateway Center is already — generally permitted — to allow retail shop spaces under 4000 square feet, for the 77,200 square feet of space requested for zoning clarification by Petrovich.

“The requested changes do not increase the size of the center or significantly change the retail uses,” argues this staff report. “The changes do not increase the intensity or overall use of the center and do not raise any environmental issues that were not addressed in the earlier environmental review, or cause new or substantially more severe significant environmental impacts.”

The pertinent planning issue is: Currently determining what specific zoning categories are interpreted as being properly implicated by the vague and broad, eight-year old, conditional use permit of Gateway Center.

In practical terms, this amount of total space (located at southeastern part of Gateway, near the Pet Extreme store) would provide room for about 25 businesses which would perhaps otherwise locate within Woodland’s downtown area or at County Fair Mall.

The city staff report admits that, by its (perhaps now outdated) 2006, pre-recession, environmental analysis and evaluation, Gateway Center’s “most direct competition would be with the County Fair Mall,” while still arguing that its impact “would not be significant because [various market areas] still presented the County Fair Mall with a sizable market.”

“Further, the [2006, pre-recession, environmental] analysis concluded that with or without the Gateway Center, the County Fair Mall would need re-working to compete regionally. ‘That there is still investor interest in the mall, even with the Gateway center and therefore the project would have less than significant impact on existing businesses due to urban decay,’” recites the current staff report (emphasis in original).

“Staff’s assessment,” continues this report, is that “impact to the vacancy rate [caused by city approval Petrovich’s application for zoning clarification and flexibility] would be relatively small and would not affect the overall health of [County Fair Mall or Woodland’s downtown area].”

County Fair Mall: Impacted, Protests

County Fair Mall ownership describes its vacancy rate as about 40%, and that its “foot traffic is extremely small,” continuing, “ Wal Mart [at the Mall] owns their own building and related land, [and] insisted on closing off the entrance into the Mall, so this major retailer does not generate much shopper traffic after their customers buy groceries.”

By stark contrast, this city planning report states that: “[I]t should be noted that the Mall appears to be undergoing transition and has experienced the recent positive addition of the WalMart grocery store.”

Its 40% vacancy rate “is not feasible to continue,” asserts mall ownership, seemingly contradicting the city’s 2006 environmental review, upon which the present city staff position is based.  This review found that Gateway Center “would have less than significant impact on existing businesses due to urban decay.” (Please see excerpts quoted just above.)

According to city staff, the legal (case law based) “standard of significance” for urban decay includes property deterioration “directly or indirectly” caused by retail “vacancies.”

For reasons which are curious / unclear, Radio Shack and Payless Shoes, presently located at County Fair Mall and both around 3000 square feet in size are described by city planning staff as “already allowed uses in the Center,” — regardless of the requested planning contours of Petrovich’s suddenly desired clarification of allowable, small tenant uses.

These businesses remain relevant as “awaiting approval of the City to move to Gateway,” according to Raymond Arjmand, managing owner of the Mall, despite whatever specific planning distinctions are applied by city staff, regarding any parsing of specific zoning categories involved with Petrovich’s application.

“We are protesting the expansion of the Gateway Project,” plainly declares Arjmand in his April 4 letter to the city.

Interestingly, public notice of this matter was not published until April 6, by The Daily Democrat, which has come under suspicion for leaking such information.

Two Letters From County Fair Mall Ownership

Arjmand actually wrote two separate letters to the city on April 4, one protesting Petrovich’s request and another letter objecting to any “potential future construction of the Gateway II project planned to be developed by Paul Petrovich.”

Gateway II, a proposed, adjacent doubling of Gateway Center, was struck down and voided by a state appellate court ruling on February 28, because of multiple violation of environmental quality law, as a result of legal action brought by California Clean Energy Committee.

Apparently, Arjmand greatly fears that Petrovich will soon attempt to resurrect Gateway II, despite its enormous and expensive failure, as this project was discerned as unlawful following several years of litigation.

Arjmand complains to the city that Target (90,000 sq. ft.), Mattress Outlet (3000 sq. ft.) and General Nutrition Center (2000 sq. ft.) have already left County Fair Mall for the existing Gateway project, and that the Mall’s movie theaters (owned by Cinemark, a huge corporation) “is awaiting approval from the City to move to Gateway.”

Gateway Center’s Development Agreement permits insertion of movie theaters, after their location downtown, potentially creating commercial confusion / inhibition / competition against a downtown theater location.

“The effect of your efforts is to monopolize all new business at the Petrovich development site,” writes Arjmand to the city. “This is totally unfair business practice and clearly demonstrates favoritism to one developer [: Petrovich].

“We suggest that your efforts would be more beneficial to the community you serve by promoting redevelopment and helping business owners who have already been damaged by Gateway I.  You have a fiduciary responsibility to be serving all of the members of the City of Woodland,” admonishes Arjmand (emphasis in original.)

“We think that one of the most important jobs of the City Council is to seek to create net economic growth in this community,” writes Arjmand, pointing out that merely transferring businesses from one location to another will not achieve “new net sales to Woodland,” as described by city staff report.

Arjmand believes that: “This kind of business decision making must be stopped.”

“A successful [Gateway Center] requires synergy created by a diverse tenant mix through a variety of merchandisers and service providers,” announces city planning staff. “Providing a range and depth of tenant mix will support the center’s success and resiliency[.]  But at the same time, the center should not overly compete with other key neighborhood and community retail centers in town.’

What: “overly compete[,] success[,] resiliency” actually amount to and how such retail commercial purposes and zoning are best viewed, assigned and implemented, are clearly at the core of this city planning controversy.