The sandwiches and smiles will stay. After the College Terrace neighborhood protested new construction that could have forced out local grocery JJ&F Food Store — a family-owned business since 1948 — developers are now offering to subsidize the store's rent for the next 30 years.
The subsidy means JJ&F could remain at 2180 El Camino Real — across from its current site – with rent help from developer Patrick Smailey of Twenty-One Hundred Ventures LLC.
Smailey announced the arrangement at Wednesday's Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission meeting.
An outpouring of at least 50 residents came to the meeting to support the grocery — and by extension, the current development that proposes to "save it."
Smailey's proposed College Terrace Centre, a 63,411-square-foot development filling a city block, would replace the site's existing buildings, where JJ&F is currently located, with mix of private housing, commercial space and a community meeting room.
JJ & F would be moved to a lot facing El Camino Real.
JJ&F owners Wednesday called the move to a more visible location — and developers' subsidy — necessary to stay afloat.
"If this isn't approved, we will lose the store," co-owner John Garcia said.
Residents spoke of visiting JJ&F as children, then bringing their own children. Several white-haired women passed the meeting knitting.
"It's a community asset. It's an icon. And the food is fabulous," said Lina Crane, who lived nearby in the 1950s and now drives from acrosstown to shop at the market. Owners really care about neighbors, she said, a sentiment Margaret Mertens Barret echoed.
After 85 years in Palo Alto, Barret has been to every grocery store in town, she said.
"And I don't suppose there's more than one person in the audience that remembers the Piggly-Wiggly," she called out playfully in the public-comment period, triggering a wave of chuckles.
"JJ&F is without a doubt the most pleasant grocer of all," she said, adding the store delivered her groceries free when she was unable to drive.
A chef at neighboring Stanford University, Sandra Coulson, called the grocery not only heart-warming but also highly capable.
"There is no other place where you can walk in and say, 'The fraternity next door just stole my dinner and would you please quarter 25 chickens.'"
Coulson said she isn't generally a fan of change, but if the new complex will keep the grocery store, she's in favor of it.
By the end of the public comments, audience members were applauding one another.
Terms of the subsidy with JJ&F have been privately arranged with the Garcia family, but developers are applying for a zoning agreement that would require that the parcel to be used as a grocery in perpetuity.
The mixed-use center would require the site to be rezoned as a planned community (PC) zone.
For commissioners presiding over the no-vote feedback session, the proposed center raised the question of whether a higher-density zoning change should be approved in order to save the grocery store.
In concept, they supported "rescuing" JJ&F – after verifying with city staff that a zoning change could specify a grocery store rather than a drive-through mini-mart, and that it would be a valid reason to change zoning.
Yet they had mixed feelings about the new-and-improved version of the development. Since a the proposal was presented to the city last spring, the Centre's shape is less massive and it contains more community benefits, according to Smailey.
The promise to support JJ&F, plus the affordable housing, the community room and other features means 28 percent of the project's square footage is now devoted to public benefits, he said.
While commissioners praised the attempt to improve the project and work with the community, they questioned the project's overall composition.
Commissioners Lee Lippert and Arthur Keller urged Smailey to consider adding market-rate housing, which would help subsidize the grocery while lessening the project's overall density by replacing commercial space.
Commissioner Karen Holman said the roughly 37,000-square-feet of proposed office space "breaks the bank."
"It's just too much," she said.
But the zoning change is needed to support a grocery store, she added, and suggested the developers add more retail to serve the neighborhood.
Vice Chair Samir Tuma praised the addition of low-income housing, as well as architect Tony Carrasco's proposal to use Zipcar, the car-sharing service better known for use in San Francisco.
Commissioner Paula Sandas was absent.
In other business, the commission cut short a study session on housing needed for Stanford University's hospitals' and shopping center expansion.
The combined expansions are expected to create 3,200 jobs and the need for 1,856 new households, according to a city-commissioned study by Keyser Marston Associates.
The commission only briefly discussed the figures and how they were obtained before the meeting's start time rolled around.
After viewing the sizeable crowd that turned out to support JJ&F, commission Chair Daniel Garber suggested commissioners e-mail Stanford follow-up questions and comments. The meeting would go too late to resume the study session, he predicted, accurately.