Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 17, 2010

Residents debate Edgewood Plaza 'benefits'

Commission ponders retail center's zoning request

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 to amend its planned community (PC) zone.

The "public benefits" that Sand Hill is proposing doesn't balance the relaxed zoning restrictions that come with the PC zone — including reduced parking requirements.

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

The project calls for redevelopment of the shopping center at 2080 Channing Ave., with construction of 10 new homes. Edgewood is one of the few retail centers designed as part of developer Joseph Eichler's mid-century residential projects. As an amended 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 10,400-square-foot park and creating a display highlighting 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 to 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 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, however, said Sand Hill 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 amending the PC zone or request to go with CN zoning.

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

Comments

Posted by Don't hold your breath, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2010 at 11:05 am

Get ready everyone for Alma Plaza II--this will get bogged down in the PA Process for years to come. Do not expect any kind of shopping at Edgewood Plaza for a long time.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Love this quote from Dan Garber: Commissioner Dan Garber, however, said Sand Hill should find a tenant who will embrace the shopping center with existing constraints, including the wrap-around parking lot.

Yes let's go tell merchants how to run their business. Let's tell them to "embrace" retail operation paradigms from the 50's. Let's make them take on additional expenses to modify standard retail operations to fit our needs --- because we're so freaking special here.

Edgewood should be knocked to the ground. It would only take a few hours - it is ugly and will never be attractive.

The great Eichler cut corners in construction any way possible. Open up the walls in any of his houses and you'll find code violations everywhere.

Lipstick on a pig. A dead pig.


Posted by Don't hold your breath, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Menlo Park got a giant Safeway built. Los Altos got a large Whole Food market. Mountain View got a new shopping center with REI and Best Buy.
During that time our two shopping centers Edgewood Plaza and Alma Plaza have sat derelict. Anyone see anything wrong here? Now they are pushing a new Shop Palo Alto website!!!!
There will be no easy and quick resolution to Edgewood Plaza, just like there wasn't for Alma Plaza--now that the "neighbors" are involved and "activists" like Bob Moss have put their two cents in.
Not sure why both of those shopping centers could not have stayed shopping centers with large grocery stores as an anchor--well I guess I do know--a combination of neighbors that could not be satisfied, a city council afraid to step in and set a deadline for a decision and an unwritten city rule that all grocery stores must be small to protect JJ&F in College Terrace (hmmm College Terrace--aka traffic calming central).


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2010 at 2:21 pm

The biggest benefit there is with this particular shopping center is its proximity to 101. This means that a huge grocery store can be built and the delivery trucks and traffic from out of towners will not cause problems to local residents.

Of course, this is Palo Alto, and the obvious benefit of having a shopping center beside 101 will be ignored.


Posted by Dont question, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Developers have shown their talents in the mammoth San Antonio /Fabian development, and at the corner of El Camino /Charleston, and at 800 High Street, and don't forget the glorious Cheesecake Factory building.
Yes, let them have their way and don't question. don't let the facts get in the way.
I want! I want! Don't bother me with the facts. I Want, and that's what is important.
Rallying cry: Palo Alto Process Bad! Money Good!


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 17, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Resident - You are right that this site is an obvious choice for a normal (not Palo Alto normal, but the rest of the world normal) size grocery store. Ample space for parking, close to Embarcadero and 101. But there are a few problems:

The developer can't make as much $$ without housing!
The "beautiful, historic" (ugly and run down to the rest of us) Eichler buildings must be preserved!
The local residents (who should have a say in this because it it their neighborhood) have to approve it.

Then there is the Palo Alto Process which will add another several years to the project, and if we are really lucky, the ARB will recommend something with bars that make the building look like a jail (like the new building at the entrance to downtown on University, the new Walgreens downtown or the new ATT store on El Camino). Or they can include some really plastic looking finishes like the JCC. Or they can make the housing look really unwelcoming like those visible from 101.


Posted by Get real, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2010 at 10:31 am

In mountain view, at the corner of Middlefield and Rengsdorf is a shopping center, with an empty supermarket location,. the location has been empty for a long, long time (it use dto be a Luckys). It is not a gigantic location but bigger than the stores planned for Alma and Edgewood Plazas. There are no other supermarkets all that close to that location. Yet, it has been empty for 2+ years, I think. So do you think it will be easy to find some retailer to open a small (even by PA standards) store in Edgewood? Because it is in Palo Alto? Because people do not want either :
a) competetion for JJ&F
b) traffic from a large store
c) because it may attract people from out of town
Some reatiler will agree to open an overprice, small botique grcoery in Edgewood? Get real.
Edgewood should remain all retail--no housing. A large 30-40K square foot store should be the anchor. Due to the lack of spine by our city leaders and the constant kowtowing to "neeghborhood leaders", "activists", NIMBYists and "obstructionists" we are lacking in decent grocery shopping locations.
I agree with others hwo say that the Edgewood Plaza remodel will languish for years in the PA process.


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 19, 2010 at 7:52 am

I'd just like to say...these posts are hilarious. On the spot.
Sad that a place remains an awful, uselss eyesore and derelect at an entry point to Palo Alto. This does not reflect well on the city. Though I am a former Eichler owner (two homes) I honestly believe this commercial plot should be leveled and the developer should be allowed to start fresh. There is little chance of something inappropriate getting built there. OF course some sort of review is correct. But, it's TIME to move forward, PLEASE. Yes, I AM a neighbor.


Posted by PAUSD Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2010 at 12:20 am

Why, why, why do we need new houses when the schools are already overcrowded, Mayor Burt?!


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 21, 2010 at 9:33 am

Do many people in Palo Alto think we need more housing - probably not. Does the ABAG? Yep. Does the developer of Edgewood - can't make enough money otherwise.


Posted by voice in the wind, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 21, 2010 at 10:59 am

Yes, folks, you are all on target. No matter how reasonable or rational any of your arguments appear to be, they fall on deaf ears. Clearly anything older than 30 years in Palo Alto is historic and mandates, by golly, mandates preservation!

(Of course, the fine print to this mantra states... that it may be at the expense of any and all residents who happen to try and live in Palo Alto. )

Just because the shopping center was built in the Eichler style doesn't mean it warrants preservation. The whole significance for Eichler homes was smart, modern design (i.e., fashion) at affordable prices for Homeowners.... it had nothing to do with what made sense for businesses at all. They didn't tout their expertise as being smart design for business. It's time to get over this argument of historic significance because it's a flimsy excuse in this case.

Furthermore, there's also the question of what size business center to build. Afterall, we have to keep the developer happy with some obscene profits from building housing. (Who knows how much longer these builders can milk the real estate cow?)... and we have to protect the sacred JJ&F. Forget about crowded schools. Kids don't vote.

Alas, to live here you must travel all over town to shop for the things you need. (Gasp, but what about traffic calming?! Sorry, all these small shops across sprawling Palo Alto continue to defeat the purpose.) On the other hand, Menlo Park, E. Palo Alto and Mountain View have made it so easy and, frankly, quite pleasant for us to travel out of town for the one-stop shopping everyone wants. Our over-scheduled, busy lives don't have time for the dreamy, bike-to-everything, independently wealthy, fantasy life. Hmmm... 5 stops in and out of car + search for parking + traffic aggravation + time dodging pan-handlers vs. 1 stop in and out of car + convenient parking.

It's much easier for our powers-that-be to avoid those hard decisions with a fancy, low-cost website that "says" to shop locally. It shows that they really care. Words not actions. Nope, no courage in this town. It's easier to prop up the facade of a small-town atmosphere than to admit to the realities of living the fast-pace in heart of silicon valley.

The saying "time is money" holds true for everyone... and the less time it takes to do mundane errands like shopping for groceries, the more money will stay within the city limits. Imagine that.

(Yeah, I know, it's a fantasy.)


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