Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 23, 2012

New Edgewood Plaza wins final approval

City Council OKs rehabilitation of Eichler plaza, which will include a Fresh Market grocery store

by Gennady Sheyner

Edgewood Plaza, the only shopping area built by Palo Alto developer Joseph Eichler, will soon welcome a new grocery store along with 10 homes and a small public park under a proposal the City Council approved Monday night, March 19.

The council's 8-1 vote, with Karen Holman dissenting, was the culmination of more than five years of planning by the developer, Sand Hill Property Company. It took a series of revisions and extensive negotiations with neighborhood residents for the project to win over its critics, get through Palo Alto's planning process and reach the council.

Sand Hill's initial proposal, which called for more than 30 homes at the mostly vacant plaza near Embarcadero and West Bayshore roads, was soundly rejected by the surrounding neighborhood and had led to a lawsuit.

Though council members expressed some concern about traffic and parking issues Monday, they agreed the new proposal would be a welcome change for the plaza, which Councilman Larry Klein characterized as one of the city's most unsightly areas.

Edgewood was built in the late 1950s by Eichler and architect A. Quincy Jones. Klein, who lives about a mile from the plaza and who worked across U.S. Highway 101 from it for many years, estimated he has driven by the site about 15,000 times in recent decades. This included weekly trips to a dry-cleaning establishment that finally moved out last year, he said.

"Over the time, I sadly witnessed the gradual decline of the shopping center until now. It's probably the biggest eyesore in town," Klein said.

The most significant change to Edgewood will be a new grocery store, an amenity that has been missing since Albertsons left in 2006. The new store will be operated by The Fresh Market, a chain that specializes in organic food and currently has about 115 stores in the nation. The Palo Alto store, which could open in early 2013, would be its first west of the Mississippi.

"We've known this was always going to be a neighborhood shopping center, and a neighborhood shopping center means a grocery store," John Tze of Sand Hill told the council. "We've known that we'll need to bring a grocery store, and the grocery store is The Fresh Market."

The renovated plaza will also feature a small community park and 10 two-story homes, designed in an Eichler style, which emphasizes open spaces, natural light and glassy exteriors. The three existing retail buildings will be renovated, with one relocated.

Councilman Pat Burt, who proposed approving the project, called the plan a suitable compromise between the developer and residents.

"The community has been looking forward to this project for a long while, and I think we have something that's a very good balance of a variety of competing interests," Burt said.

"We're very pleased to have this market coming in, and I think the project as a whole is going to be a real net gain for the community," he added. "I think the bulk of the surrounding neighborhood is really anxious to see it get built."

Most of the speakers who addressed the council Monday supported the project, though some called for the city to make sure it addresses anticipated traffic problems. Members of the Architectural Control Committee, the group of residents that challenged the previous proposal, came out in favor of the new one. Martin Yonke and Diane Sekimura, both of whom took part in the lawsuit, said Monday night that they look forward to Edgewood's redevelopment.

Others viewed the project in less rosy terms and criticized it for what they said was a shortage of parking and unsafe traffic conditions at the plaza. Some council members, including Greg Schmid and Klein, also raised questions about potential traffic issues problems that staff plans to address in the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan.

The council's approval also includes a condition calling for a left-turn-arrow traffic signal on Embarcadero at St. Francis Drive. Another condition that Burt attached to the approval was retaining an exit between Edgewood and the Shell gas station next to it.

Holman voted against the project, saying she was concerned about traffic safety at the new plaza, given its location in a busy corridor next to Highway 101. She also questioned the adequacy of the city's environmental review, which concluded that the new development would not have a "significant" historical impact. The finding was the subject of a dispute between two different consultants.

Despite questions over the project's historical impact, the redevelopment proposal had no problem clearing the city's approval process. In recent months, the city's Planning and Transportation Commission, Historic Resources Board and Architectural Review Board had all signed off on the redevelopment plan.

"It is a very important project in the city in that it revitalizes a really dead corner at one of the main entrances to town, so it's really a significant project," Architectural Review Board Chair Judith Wasserman said. "We felt it was very successful in doing what it intended to do, which was to really consider the viability of the retail component."

Wasserman said this was achieved by relocating one of the buildings, a move that allows all parking in the plaza to be contained in one place. The city's Historic Resources Board had ruled that the relocation of the building would not reduce what Chair Martin Bernstein called the "Eichler feeling" or diminish the plaza's historic significance.

"When we looked at the level of detail the report focused on, it gave us confidence that it has spirit of Eichler," Bernstein said.

Council members agreed that Edgewood, despite the major changes, will continue to honor the Eichler tradition. The homebuilder will also be honored with a plaque in the plaza's park.

"It has been a tortuous and winding process on this piece of property," Vice Mayor Greg Scharff told Tze. "I like the design. I like the way you honored the Eichler architecture.

"I think you've thought carefully about this project, and it shows in the design."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by HB, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 20, 2012 at 7:33 am

There is NO safe pedestrian access to this neighborhood center from half the homes in the neighborhood.

This critical safety issue was not studied in the EIR although neighbors had been calling attention to this deficiency since 2010. Council members raised this deficiency with city staff, who agreed that safe pedestrian access was needed but who said it would take up to seven years to provide.

And yet the project was approved without this critical mitigation being made a condition of approval.


Posted by Palo Alto man, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 19, 2012 at 6:08 pm

I cannot be happier for this project being approved! Great job, this abandoned shopping center not only creates an eyesore but for this that subscribe to the broken window theory, a location for no good to happen. For those concerned about pedestrian safety, don't cross busy streets with no streetlights, this project will only improve traffic safety by forcing the city's hand to create protected turns.


Posted by noncompliant, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 5, 2013 at 4:50 pm

Concrete has been poured this week for the new Edgewood parking lot. Contrary to Councilman Burt's above stated condition, there appears to be no 'exit between Edgewood and the Shell gas station next to it'. What had previously been an exit has been paved with spaces for parking. Was this requirement rescinded by the city or is this a willful disregard by the builder for the city's terms?


Posted by Compliant, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 5, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Holman sees everything as being historic and feels she should control everything. Funny how she wants an over priced bridge ( a vanity project if there ever was one) over 101 to be a shining example so drivers will Olof an hah over palo alto, yet is against building a much needed shopping center at a gateway to our city. Talk about being self centered and out of touch!!!
Let's get this built. To hell with the Eichler structures-- they are ugly and worthless. Time to get over our Eichler worship.


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