Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 17, 2010

Commissioners defer decision on Edgewood Plaza

Neighbors challenge retail center's 'public benefit' in exchange for relaxed zoning requirements

by Georgia Wells

Neighbors are pushing back on Edgewood Plaza rebuilding plans despite substantial changes by the developer, Sand Hill Property Company, which is seeking a planned community (PC) zone.

But neighbors are arguing that the "public benefit" proposed don't balance relaxing zoning restrictions for the project — including reduced parking.

The zoning change was discussed Wednesday night by the Planning and Transportation Commission, which agreed to postpone any action on the proposal.

The project calls for construction of a shopping center and 10 homes at one of the few retail centers designed as part of the 1950s Eichler residential projects. As a proposed PC zone, the project would qualify for smaller-than-usual setbacks behind the residential areas and a greater height to the existing buildings.

The project's proposed public benefits include rehabilitating two historic Eichler retail buildings, bringing a grocery store to the community, developing a 10,000-square-foot park and creating a display highlighting developer Joseph Eichler's achievements, according to project architect Kevin Jones.

While commissioners applauded the proposal for a refurbished retail center, Commissioner Susan Fineberg said she didn't see why the same benefits couldn't be achieved under a normal neighborhood commercial district zone (CN). A CN zone would require the project comply with all zoning regulations, including building height and setback laws.

In an open letter to the city, architect Alan Hess, author of 18 architecture books, wrote that "Edgewood Plaza is of national significance," and "the historic measures (the proposed project) endorses are flawed and would not be a public benefit."

Palo Alto resident Bob Moss also said he did not recognize the plan as a public benefit.

Sand Hill also plans to move one of the historic buildings in order to consolidate the parking lot. Market retailers today, architect Jones explained, want "visibility and continuity" in their parking lots. The plan reduces parking spaces from 250 to 168.

Commissioner Dan Garber said they should find a tenant who will embrace the shopping center with existing constraints, including the wrap-around parking lot.

The shopping center was built in a time when ideas about retail and neighborhoods were very different than today, Commissioner Eduardo Martinez said.

"The idea of a retail center in the middle of a parking lot was what we grew up with." The new parking lot may be necessary now, he said, because "retail is different than it was in 1956. It is trying to account for this by clustering parking in front."

The commission voted unanimously to revisit the matter in the future, when the applicant can continue to move forward on initiating the PC zone, or request to go with CN zoning.

Editorial Intern Georgia Wells can be e-mailed at gwells@paweekly.com.

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