Plan to revitalize Edgewood Plaza moves ahead
Palo Alto's planning commission approves proposal to rehabilitate three stores, build 10 homes at Eichler shopping center
A shopping plaza anchored by The Fresh Market grocery store and featuring a small park could soon take shape at Palo Alto's Edgewood Plaza after the city's planning commissioners agreed Wednesday night to approve a zone change that would enable the project.
The proposal to redevelop Edgewood Plaza, the only local shopping plaza to be developed by iconic home-builder Joseph Eichler, has gone through several iterations throughout the years-long approval process. Developer John Tze of Sand Hill Property Company had previously proposed building 24 homes on the plaza, a plan that was widely panned by residents in the adjacent neighborhoods.
The new proposal, for which the Planning and Transportation Commission approved a zone change by a 6-0 vote (Greg Tanaka was absent), includes 10 homes and renovations to the three original retail buildings on the plaza, which is bounded by Embarcadero Road, Channing Avenue and West Bayshore Road.
The most critical component of the new plaza will be a 20,000-square-foot grocery store that would occupy the building once occupied by Albertsons (formerly Lucky Supermarket). Albertsons left Edgewood in 2006.
"This is a neighborhood center anchored by a grocery store, and it's intended to be that way going forward," Tze told the commission Wednesday.
As the Weekly first reported earlier this month, the grocery store The Fresh Market has agreed to move into the plaza and bring to Palo Alto its first store west of the Mississippi. Tze said Wednesday that The Fresh Market's move into Edgewood is part of a broader plan to build six stores in California. Executives from The Fresh Market visited the plaza last year during "Edgewood Eats," a resident-organized mobile-food event, he said.
Tze said the chain's decision to build other stores in California convinced him that The Fresh Market would operate in the plaza for a long time.
"We don't want the risk of someone just opening and three years later saying they can't do it, shutting down and moving back east of the Mississippi," Tze said.
The project would also include a small park with benches and trees — a place intended to encourage community gatherings, he said. The Eichler buildings would be preserved and rehabilitated, and the plaza would include a display honoring the developer, whose distinctive style emphasizes open space, glass doors and post-and-beam construction.
In addition to rezoning the site for a "planned community," the commission voted to approve the environmental analysis for Edgewood Plaza by a 4-2 vote, with Vice Chair Susan Fineberg and Commissioner Arthur Keller dissenting. Commissioners said they were concerned about the recent changes in the final Environmental Impact Report, which had initially stated that the project would have a significant impact but was later revised to say the impact would be minimal. The city's two historical consultants disagreed on the issue.
In approving the project, commissioners praised Tze's patience and willingness to work with residents on refining the plans. Commissioner Samir Tuma thanked Tze and the project's critics for making the revisions necessary to make the revitalization of Edgewood Plaza possible.
"I know there are a lot of people, particularly in that immediate surrounding community, who are looking forward to having an operating shopping center — one with a grocery store and other amenities that go with it," Tuma said.
Commissioner Mark Michael said the redeveloped plaza would be a "significant enhancement" to the community. Commissioner Arthur Keller agreed.
"In this particular case we're getting a real shopping center," Keller said. "We're getting a reasonable size grocery store — 20,000 square feet — and we're getting two other shopping-center buildings, which will basically create a full complement of stores that it will be reasonable to consider a neighborhood center."
Residents who spoke at the Wednesday hearing also gave the project high marks, though some said they were worried about its traffic impacts and the dangerous road conditions on West Bayshore Road.
Brenda Erwin, who lives nearby, said she has seen many pedestrians and bicyclists barely avoid getting hit by cars at West Bayshore, a busy road that runs adjacent to U.S. Highway 101. Planning Director Curtis Williams said the city will consider means beyond this project to address the traffic problems.
"West Bayshore has been there and has been a fast roadway when this was a shopping center, and we're going to try to work to create better access there, but it's not this project's impact that's causing that," Williams said. "Within the bounds of this project, we should do what we can do to provide a safe environment, but we cannot try to address West Bayshore's problems just through this project."
Martin Yonke, who lives near the plaza and whose group challenged the developer's earlier plan, was one of several speakers to praise the project at Wednesday's hearing.
"We look forward to having a revitalized shopping center that can once again be an asset to Palo Alto," Yonke said.
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at email@example.com.