Fry's to be rezoned out of Palo Alto??
Original post made
by Douglas Moran, Barron Park,
on Jul 21, 2006
Be prepared to say "Goodbye" to Fry's if the City Council approves the City Manager's recommendation for rezoning that area (technical name: Pedestrian/Transit Oriented Development Combining District, or P/TOD).
Under the P/TOD zoning, the absolute maximum space allowed for retail on the site would be less than half what Fry's is seeking (87,500 sqft vs 190,000 sqft), with staff estimating the probable amount to be 30-45,000 sqft (16-24% of Fry's target). The calculated maximum is based on retail that requires less parking than Fry's and does not include practical considerations such configurations of buildings.
My sources: The City's report and testimony by the property owner (see Web Link
and see the intro and the section on Fry's)
Question: Hasn't the City said that it is important to retain Fry's, both for sales tax revenue and as a service to residents and local businesses?
Answer 1: The City is committed IN PRINCIPLE. However, practice is a different matter. When they talk of the desirability of using the current Fry's site for housing, and you ask where they anticipate relocating Fry's to, they have no concrete answer, just the hope that something big enough will turn up or that Fry's will accept a small store. Hope is not a strategy.
Answer 2: Figuring out how to retain Fry's was a "top priority" item when City Manager Frank Benest arrived over 6 years ago. Currently Stanford Shopping Center is taking precedence over retaining Fry's. City Council attempted to create an high-level Economic Development position on staff to help move things along, but Benest rejected it. For anything that has been intentionally neglected for this long, it is impossible to call it a "top priority" or to believe that it will not continue to be ignored.
Answer 3: The claim is bureaucratic/political spin: The information from normally knowledgeable sources is so varied that my assumption is that those sources interpreted euphemisms for non-progress as reporting actual activity.
Question: How can the City be so clueless on economic development?
Answer: Practice, practice, practice. The City has a long history of regarding University Avenue and Stanford Shopping Center as the only retail areas worthy of attention. Neglect of other retail areas included not only allowing sites to be converted to (more profitable) housing, but forcing that conversion. For example, the old Sun site at San Antonio and 101 would be a prime site for a big box retailer or an auto mall (easy freeway access, large acreage, nearby shopping destinations,...). Hard to imagine any city other than Palo Alto deciding to convert such a site to housing.
Note: Multiple sources report that the owner of Fry's has not responded to the City's attempt to contact him. Speculation falls into two categories: (1) he is so fed up with past City conduct that he sees no point in talking, and (2) the City's current position is an obvious non-starter, so he isn't wasting his time.
Status: Council will be discussing the PTOD on Monday 7/24. They listened to public testimony last Monday and will NOT be accepting any more testimony at the meeting. However, you can e-mail comments to them at City.Council@CityOfPaloAlto.org (capitalization optional). I got no sense which way Council is leaning on this matter.
Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 22, 2006 at 11:32 pm
11:30 pm, 7/22/06
I have sent the following emal to the City Council
Thank you pushing this crucial matter forward Doug.
Fry's in PTOD: Anchors Aweigh?
Inclusion of Fry's in the PTOD increases the likelihood that this vital city retail generator and magnet will leave Palo Alto.
1. Inadequate Retail Square Footage on Redeveloped PTOD Fry's Site
Under the proposed PTOD zone, a theoretical maximum of 190,000 square feet of retail space is available.
[i.e., 12.6-acre current Fry's site] X [43,560 sq. ft. per acre] X [0.35 mixed use non-residential Floor Area Ratio] = ~190,000 sq. ft.
But this total is based on the gross area of the site, without taking into account streets, open space, and other elements.
Calculations by ZOU Urban Design Consultant Van Meter Williams Pollock indicate a maximum non-residential development on the site of only 87,500 sq. ft.
[City Manager's Report, CMR:295:06 dated 7/24/06, Attachment D, page 12]
87,500 sq. ft. is larger than the the current 60,000 sq ft Fry's footprint, but not by much for such a successful store that has much larger locations. Fry's may also have to accept that the square footage will not be contiguous.
2. No Place to Go During Fry's Site Redevelopment
Does Fry's stay open during the PTOD redevelopment of its current site?
Can a 60,000 sq. ft. thriving business successfully negotiate around development on a site that will only allow 87,500 sq ft?
Is there a temporary facility in Palo Alto to hold Fry's in the interim? If so, will Fry's take it?
Will Fry's long-standing Palo Alto presence deter them from moving to a new, more desirable ready-made site in another community during this interim?
In all cases, I believe the answer is "Probably not."
3. PTOD Mixed-Use Site Is Not Compatible With Fry's
Even at a "mere" 60,000 sq. ft., one of the smallest of all its locations, Fry's is a big box store with high ceilings, an open feel, and a large parking requirement for over 12 hours a day.
In a potential Fry's big-box mixed-used scenario, where will the residential parking go? In a multi-story outside garage, which many retailers don't like and which blocks views? Or in an underground parking structure from which upper-floor residents must navigate through a shopping-center-like maze?
You can put residents above large stores in San Francisco and New York, but can you, and do you want, to do it here?
I think not.
4. What's Best For the Owner May Not Be Best for the Tenant
It is true as stated in the City Manager's Report, that Robert Wheatley, whose company owns the Fry's site, indicated a general acceptance toward PTOD at this location in his initial comments. (CMR:295:06, Attachment P, pp. 21)
This is neither surprising nor necessarily encouraging; property owners and developers love options, and PTOD includes a broad set of possibilities.
However, in follow-up questions from Planning & Transportation Commission Chair Patrick Burt and Vice Chair Karen Holman, Mr. Wheatley stated that the retail FAR was probably "not adequate" to meet Fry's needs (pp. 22), and then corrected himself to say "there was enough for Fry's to be in there" but it would require "a creative approach (pp.29-30)."
These were carefully chosen words from a successful property owner, who is not necessarily invested in retaining Fry's, especially if housing and/or a broken-up retail in a mixed-use development can bring in a greater return.
It is this city's job to be invested in keeping Fry's and creating the proper zoning and incentives to do it.
So How Does Palo Alto Save Fry's? ...
... and beyond that, how do we build on the strength of this magnet and revenue stream to further enhance our flagging sales tax revenues.
A. Do Not Include Fry's In PTOD
For reasons stated above.
B. Rezone The Entire 12.6 Acre Fry's Site Exclusively For Commercial Retail
Yes, we would lose housing on this site, but we have plenty in the pipeline and retaining Fry's and expanding retail is a huge priority.
C. Plan for Redevelopment Of the Site As Single Story "Big, Medium, and Small Box Retail"
This would include the current 200,000 to 250,000 square feet of office, retail, and warehouse space on the entire 12.6 acre site that contains Fry's and other adjacent businesses.
D. Develop Half the Site While Fry's Stays Open
This would be the northern end (i.e., the one closer to Page Mill.
E. Move Fry's Into As Much of the Completed Half as It Wants
F. Complete the Redevelopment for the Side on the Original Fry's Site
G. Allow Fry's First Option For Additional Space On It's Former Side.
H. Bring In Other Retailers to Fill Space In This Magnet Site
In this way we can save Fry's, continue a vibrant business and sales tax stream during a transition, and provide not only for Fry's growing future in Palo Alto but also for other retail business in an area that is already a magnet and will be adjacent to all the amenities along Park Boulevard and over toward California Avenue.
Fry's or bust!
Let's make it happen, Palo Alto.
2385 Columbia Street