http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2011/04/29/land-use


Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 29, 2011

LAND USE

Redevelopment of Edgewood Plaza gets early nod

Planning commission supports redevelopment plans, zone change

by Sue Dremann

Saying that the revitalization of dilapidated Edgewood Plaza is long overdue, Palo Alto's planning commission gave plans to redevelop the historic 1950s shopping center a push Wednesday night while also deliberating over the benefits to the public that the developer should be required to provide the community.

Sand Hill Property Co. is proposing to build 10 two-story homes and renovating the three historic buildings on the property, which lies along Embarcadero Road and is bordered by West Bayshore Road, Channing Avenue and St. Francis Drive. The plaza was built in the 1950s by developer Joseph Eichler and was his only retail center.

The Planning and Transportation Commission voted unanimously to initiate a zone change that would clear the way for further reviews and potential approval. The city's historic-resources and architectural-review boards can now consider the plan.

Edgewood Plaza fell into disrepair and became all but deserted after Albertson's supermarket closed nearly a decade ago. After years of wrangling over historic preservation and the number of homes Sand Hill planned to build, including a 2009 lawsuit filed by a group of residents, Sand Hill and residents arrived at an agreement that includes bringing back a grocery store.

Commissioner Greg Tanaka said he supported the "urgent revitalization of the center. It's been too long and too late," he said.

But he also expressed concerns about the shopping center's viability. He had previously asked for, and still had not received, any information about why the plaza had failed in the past, he said.

"Why has this site, near a busy off ramp, near a busy freeway, in an affluent area, failed? I want an understanding," he said. He doesn't want the council to be revisiting the topic in another 50 years if the retail center fails again, he added.

Edgewood's limited visibility in part is due to Eichler's design, which placed his office and the Shell station adjacent to Embarcadero, developer John Tze said after the meeting. In addition, a screen of trees blocks visibility, he said.

Much of the nearly four-hour discussion revolved around public benefits, which are required in exchange for a planned-community (PC) zone. The public benefits accepted by the city for other dense mixed-use projects in Palo Alto have been of dubious value, residents pointed out and commissioners agreed.

Several residents, including Barron Park's Bob Moss, said the city has not been diligent in protecting so-called public-benefit spaces from encroachment by business interests in the past.

Public plazas such as the courtyard adjacent to Café Riace and a plaza at 800 High St. have been largely used by restaurants for outside dining, residents said.

Sand Hill has proposed a 12,099-sq.-ft. pocket park at the corner of Channing Avenue and St. Francis Drive that includes a grassy area, fountain, benches, walkways and seating in a paved plaza area.

But Commissioner Susan Fineberg expressed concern about the true intent of the park, since drawings showed that half the area would be covered with pavers and patio seating.

"It reads like tables and chairs" for businesses, she said. "I'm questioning the erosion of true public use. It should be preserved as true open space, not infringed on as functional, for-profit spaces. It's not going to fly as a public benefit if it's public sidewalks and private seating," she said.

Curtis Williams, the city's planning director, agreed that past vagueness led to plazas being taken over for private use. The park boundaries need to be well-defined so that the dividing line between public and private space won't be confused, he said.

But developer John Tze said more seating and less grass was proposed because neighbors have said they don't want a park to be for children's use.

Commissioner Eduardo Martinez wondered, however, if the city should be boxed into a park proposal.

"What if we didn't accept it as a park?" he said. He suggested the area could be used as open space or perhaps the city could accept a $500,000 in-lieu-of fee, a requirement of the state Quimby Act.

Tanaka suggested designating some housing for seniors could be a public benefit.

Commissioner Lee Lippert initially brought up the senior-housing issue in another context: arranging for the Palo Alto shuttle to stop at Edgewood.

Palo Alto has an aging population that may not be able to get to the shopping center otherwise, he said.

"It creates connectivity and provides ample transportation ... and it eliminates a significant amount of parking," he said.

Tze said bus service would be a good thing if a stop could be placed near the Shell gas station or in a location where it would not impact residents.

Commissioners said another potential public benefit could include upping below-market-rate housing from 1.5 units to two.

Tze said he is optimistic about the plaza's future. North Carolina-based The Fresh Market has continued to express interest in establishing a market, but he is waiting to hear about their decision, he said.

The plaza might have outlived its relevance for a time, leading to its decline, but fortunes are again favoring the neighborhood shopping center, he said.

"Lifestyles change. A couple of years ago, no grocery store wanted to be less than 50,000 square feet," he said.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Tom W, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 28, 2011 at 11:43 am

Does anyone know how much time usually passes between an agreement like this and groundbreaking?


Posted by Depends on developer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 28, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Meaningless question. Depends on economic conditions and whether the developer conforms to the zoning and critiques, or hangs tough, pushing and pushing the rules. Any developer who conforms to the city codes experiences few delays. With Jim Baer pushing this one, you can expect delays. It's up to him and to SandHill Properties.

One startling fact at the Planning Commission. Ths plan they re-submitted was hardly changed from the previous one. Tiny tiny improvements.
Eventually they will say Oh, we've worked so hard and look how long it has taken. Then the developer-friendly Council will say ok, just don't be mad at us. Seen it again and again. That's the plan.


Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm

Can the All concerned in this project and the City keep the Architectural Review Board out of this? If so, maybe it will really look nice. Maybe. Collectively, the ARB is not known for its good taste.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 28, 2011 at 1:38 pm

When we first moved here in the 70's my family went there all the time to the Lucky Supermarket.

Over time ... how should I say this delicately ... hmmm, maybe there's no way, the wrong element started hanging out there. I would still go there in emergencies but the stores got very old, and there were lots of bums and low life people that seemed to always be there.

Before putting homes in that spot they ought to rennovate that sliver of East Palo Alto on the East side of the creek, that could be a very nice area, but all they have done is put in that area that destroyed perfectly good businesses in the Whiskey Gulch area.


Posted by bikes2work, a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Apr 28, 2011 at 5:14 pm

How exactly does one create 1.5 below market rate units, anyway? Seems like it has to be a whole number. LOL.


Posted by William, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 28, 2011 at 6:52 pm

How in the world is 1.5 - 2.0 below-market housing units a "public good"? If we were truly building a complex of subsidized housing that would benefit many, I might begin to call that a public good. But at 1.5 - 2.0 units (love the 1/2 unit), it's simply a bonanza for the lucky soul whose ticket gets picked to live there. Does subsidizing the cost of housing for one or two families really benefit the public let alone the other residents in the area?

I don't get it. That's not a "public good." It's a tangible manifestation of the classic liberal guilt trip (and I'm a bonafide liberal)! It just seems ridiculous.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 28, 2011 at 8:31 pm

>> Does subsidizing the cost of housing for one or two families
>> really benefit the public let alone the other residents in the area?

Got any idea how to do that other than to now bother at all, I'm
sure everyone would like to hear it?


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 28, 2011 at 8:33 pm

>> It's a tangible manifestation of the classic liberal guilt trip (and I'm a bonafide liberal)! It just seems ridiculous.

Oh, really ... in what sense of the word liberal? ;-) Doesn't sound like it.


Posted by bikes2work, a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Apr 28, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Anon. answered a question with a question. Brilliant. BMR units should NOT be listed as a public benefit. Up until a recent LA court case, they were just a standard requirement. Now developers can offer them up as something "special". Total BS. This eichlerville should demand something else instead.


Posted by Jim, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 28, 2011 at 9:48 pm

How can preserving the integrity of this poorly designed Eichler one of a kind - read mistake- be considered a public benefit?
Answer: it is not but it is the biggest delay of all.

Get a nice higher end grocery store (and let them expand if needed) to balance out the token lower end living space and get it done!

BTW, if the housing is made available only to teachers, firemen and police officers it would be a public benefit.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 29, 2011 at 1:52 am

Anon, many of us live nice lives "east of the creek" in that sliver you refer to & don't want to be renovated. You criticize the development of The Four Seasons & other businesses which bring needed revenue to EPA but think my town should renovate where people live?


Posted by Too much traffic, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2011 at 9:36 am

Don't expect anything there soon. This is going the way of Alma Plaza. How long already has this been on the table? the P&T commission will still need to decide. the Historic Resources Board will put a damper on the project (everything in Palo Alto is historic and this is an Eichler--so it is uber historic--all bow to Eichler). Then the Architecture Review Board will have there say and we know that they never like anything--they will nitpick the project to death (those who have no success as architects sit on review boards and tear down other's work). then it will go to the city council--and if there will be a vocal minority against it then it will not be voted on.
So I would thin another 7-10 years at least. So much for walkable neighborhoods.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 29, 2011 at 10:34 am

>> BTW, if the housing is made available only to teachers, firemen and police officers it would be a public benefit.

That's an interesting idea ... but then ... who gets it? In a town the size of Palo Alto can we afford to help everyone, and then when we say no, we don't help anyone and we have the virtual community cancer that Palo Alto has become.

"Hmmm" ... I know the whole east of the creek situation is not terrible ... but did you read the news yesterday about the fire over there? When you have poverty and unsafe living conditions it breeds problems. You may enjoy or be able to bear those problems, but what that really means I don't know because I don't have enough information from what you say.

Does anyone know how much real revenue the Four Seasons and whatever else is that fortified citadel over there by 101 brings to the city ... or was it all done on tax free deals to hoodwink the public again ?


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 29, 2011 at 10:39 am

Why doesn't the city work out a deal whereby Whole Foods can use that area, then the Ace hardware might have a place to expand ... into the now too small Whole Foods.

Whole Foods in Palo Alto is an embarassment compared to the other stores in the area, ie. Cupertino and Mountain View.

The Palo Alto Whole Foods has an oddly different mix of employees, and is too small to do anything right ... that is, when you compare that store with the others. The prepared food section is high traffic, and poorly cleaned and maintained. I go to all of the Whole Foods regularly and Palo Alto is way down there to the point that I am surprised the corporate management has not noticed or done anything ... another example I guess of how much greater and more responsive the free market is to everything.

So ... if Whole Foods could move to a large store by 101 their business would go up, their performance would go up, and then Ace Hardware which has been trying to expand ... at least that is my understanding when I go there and ask could move just down the street and serve Palo Alto better.


Posted by resident, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 29, 2011 at 10:58 am

Yeah, I was wondering about 1.5 units of BMR as well. How does that work? Do they even have the honesty to be embarassed when they suggest it?

Will this new "planned community" have all the parking problems of other recent projects?


Posted by resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 29, 2011 at 11:11 am

RE: Anon from Crescent Park's idea about Whole Foods moving to this location is a perfect problem solver. Plus, there must be some control over who moves into the other stores.


Posted by Jim, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 29, 2011 at 11:26 am

>> BTW, if the housing is made available only to teachers, firemen and police officers it would be a public benefit.

>>That's an interesting idea ... but then ... who gets it? In a town the size of Palo Alto can we afford to help everyone, and then when we say no, we don't help anyone and we have the virtual community cancer that Palo Alto has become.
---Lottery would make it somewhat fair.

I also like the whole foods idea. Even a smaller one would do well because it would be easier for the neighborhood folks to go there.


Posted by member, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 29, 2011 at 12:30 pm

We lived in an Eichler for 20 yrs and loved it, but the Eichler buildings in Edgewod Plaza are a different story. They look just like the ugly strip malls in some towns. This is just going to be another Palo Alto architectural mistake.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 29, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Leave EPA residents out of it, Anon - your idea is lousy. EPA has a pretty aggressive redev plan of *non*-residential areas.

Yes, of course I know about the fire - I smelled it, heard the choppers & sirens. Westsiders would likely patronize businesses over there and if Whole Foods moved to a bigger location many would be grateful - except downtowners who like to walk there.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 29, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Then Palo Alto needs to let some businesses expand downtown, Whole Foods Market is too small, and same with Ace hardware. We should have free buses down Channing and up Homer to get back and forth for those who want to get there on foot.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 29, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Good idea, Anon. I love the Stanford shuttles & the EPA free shuttle as well. Maybe by the time this idea actually gets off the ground the economy may have improved enough to offer this type of amenity.


Posted by Neighbor, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 30, 2011 at 12:10 am

Someone hasn't done their homework in this report. Albertson's closed no more than 5 years ago, maybe less. And Albertson's never kept up that store -- it was always poorly stocked and maintained compared to others (not that Albertson's is any great shakes to being with)...


Posted by Bob, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 30, 2011 at 10:27 am

Whole Foods? Palo Alto (Ace) Hardware? Both are wide-area customer 'draws'. If stores that bring in regional customers go into EWP, there will be an uproar about increased traffic on Channing and Embarcadero!! This shopping center 'affects' a large area. Why can only a few residents - the Eichler "Covenant" control what happens there?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2011 at 11:37 am

I would much rather see a full size Safeway rather than another boutique food store. I am getting fed up with driving out of town to do regular grocery shopping. Midtown Safeway is forever running out of the things I buy, or taking them off the shelves altogether. Parking is tricky too and buying basics like bread and milk after 4.00 pm is a joke, there's only the pickings left.

Edgeware is a good site for a large fully stocked Safeway.


Posted by Anon, a resident of Triple El
on May 3, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Our family moved to the neighborhood in 1965. My siblings and I used to ride our bikes to the Lucky supermarket (most recently Albertsons) for baseball trading cards and Hostess cakes, as did all the neighborhood kids. Mom did her shopping there and we'd sometimes splurge for a Fornico's pizza on Friday night. That all ended in the late 70's when the need for security guards became apparent. There were unsavory folks idly sitting in their cars in the parking lot, panhandlers at the store doorways, and the market had been robbed repeatedly. We stopped going at all -just didn't feel safe; still don't.