Though far more civil than last year's tumultuous gathering, Wednesday's community meeting on Edgewood Plaza confirmed that developer John Tze will have a hard time finding consensus among Palo Alto residents who either want to tear down or save the shopping center.
"I purposely came with no drawings tonight," Tze told the 100 people who came to the meeting he organized, held at the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course.
But Tze verbally shared his general plan for the plaza -- which does not include historic preservation of the 50-year-old plaza at Embarcadero Road and Highway 101.
When pressed, Tze said he intended to tear down the Albertson's building and rows of shops to bring in the organic grocer Wild Oats, a coffee shop, 12 to 18 single-family row houses and some condos or apartments.
The bulk of the audience sounded enthused about Tze's general plan and unconcerned with preserving famed developer Joseph Eichler's only shopping center.
Many cheered when neighbor Andy Robin stood and said of the 50-year-old buildings, "They may be historic, but they're also hideous."
But a vocal group of historic preservationists believes it would be a sin to demolish the Eichler center, whose design ties the neighborhood together.
"Incorporate the gem. Don't destroy it. We really really have something here," Eichler homeowner Lenore Cymes told Tze.
Tze, of Sand Hill Property Co., made it clear that preservation of the center was not an option because of the size of store that national grocery chains require.
"There's no tenant that will take that Albertson's the way it is now," he said. "No national grocery chain can survive in 17,000 square feet."
And the replacement center will most likely not be Eichler-esque, he said.
"What I'm proposing is some startling change," he said. "It's not going to be mid-century modernism."
Tze said he has brought on architect Ken Hayes, of the Hayes Group firm that is also working with developer McNellis Partners on plans across town for housing and retail stores at Alma Plaza, where another Albertson's store closed.
Tze called Wild Oats the "cornerstone of redevelopment for this project," an anchor tenant without which the 3.5-acre project would not be viable. He is planning a 32,000-square-foot store with condos or apartments above it, compared with the 17,000-square-foot building that Albertson's vacated last August. Tze said he will also build 12 to 18 "row houses" along the bordering Channing Avenue and St. Francis Drive.
Many in the audience said they looked forward to the revitalization of the center with a new grocery store.
"I hope that the shopping center will be updated to modern levels because most of us don't shop there," neighbor Jianping Zhou, who lives across Channing from the center, said of the plans.
For the project to receive approval, it must comply with the neighborhood's special "covenants, conditions and restrictions" (CC&Rs) -- design rules enforced by the Eichler homeowners.
As a counter to those who cheered at the prospect of Edgewood's demolition, Eichler resident Angy Volterra distributed handouts and spoke of the value of the center.
"Just as poorly maintained Victorians look blighted until they're restored," Edgewood Plaza simply needs some freshening up, she said.
The Wednesday night meeting was the first time Tze had approached neighbors since Sand Hill Property acquired the Albertson's portion of the site. The San Mateo-based developer purchased the rows of shops last March and Alberston's last September, but only recently bought the grocery store out of its 22-year lease.
The 3.5-acre parcel owned by Sand Hill excludes the Shell station and the Maharishi Vedic School, which used to be Eichler's own office building. Tze said Sand Hill's efforts to relocate the school and increase the size of the project were unsuccessful.
Tze said that he would have some concrete plans to begin showing around in the next few weeks. He said he would conduct outreach to small groups of neighbors.
Sand Hill hopes to receive city approval by the end of 2007 and complete the project by early 2009.
(Staff Writer Molly Tanenbaum can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.)