Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood residents will get a glimpse of the latest plans to rebuild the defunct Edgewood Plaza on Sept. 1 when the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission is scheduled to review preliminary plans for Planned Community (PC) zoning on the property.
The zoning would change from neighborhood commercial (CN), allowing for denser development that includes housing and would include a small "pocket park" as part of a required public benefit. It would include 10 single-family homes and renovation of three Eichler retail buildings.
The property contains three commercial structures developed by Joseph Eichler in 1956. "Eichlers" are well-known flat-roofed homes in Palo Alto, but the retail center is one of the only commercial developments in the Eichler style, according to preservationists.
The property has been in disrepair and largely vacant since an Albertsons grocery store closed in August 2006. Neighbors and the property's owner, Sand Hill Property, were at odds over the number of proposed homes and what to do with the aging commercial structures, which some felt should be preserved.
A lawsuit filed in 2008 by three residents Diane Sekimura, Martin Yonke and Kim Fletcher, who were known as the Architectural Control Committee for Tract No. 1641 challenged Sand Hill because a "Declaration of Restrictions, Conditions, Covenants, Changes and Agreements" (CC&Rs) was placed on all of the deeds at the time of construction.
The declaration requires that the architectural control committee must approve construction plans and the retail district must remain in place. Sand Hill and the committee reached a settlement in October 2009 that reduced the number of homes from 25 to 10 and preserves the three commercial buildings.
The property has remained largely vacant as Sand Hill awaited a change in the economy in order to attract a new anchor grocery store. Project Manager John Tze said the company continues to talk with potential tenants. But considering the economy and that it could be awhile before he gets a commitment, Sand Hill is going ahead with the planning process because everyone is expecting some forward movement on the project, he said.
Residents who have looked at the plans submitted to the city said there are some differences between the elevation and style of the homes from what was presented to CC&R holders in November.
"A graphic ... taken directly from one of the settlement documents ... depicts the style of homes that Sand Hill Property said it intended to build. The document was incorporated into the settlement agreement because the plaintiff CC&R holders wanted to be sure there was no 'bait and switch,'" Brandon Baum, attorney for the plaintiffs, said on Aug. 10.
But the homes depicted in Sand Hill's current plans are quite different, with pitched rather than flat rooflines, he noted.
"I do not know why that is, and I have not confirmed for myself that these represent Sand Hill Property's current thinking," Baum said.
Tze said on Aug. 9 that the elevations for the residences were not yet complete at the time of the settlement but are the same as those shown to residents in November.
Tze said the intent is to remain in keeping with an Eichleresque building or one that conforms to the neighborhood. He did not elaborate on the differences between the two designs but stressed that the actual designs are not finalized. The drawings are meant to show the intent of the development, he said.
Diane Sekimura, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said Tze initiated contact when questions first emerged over the differences.
"We agreed that it would be a good idea to work together as we go forward to make sure the designs are harmonious," she said.
Drawings of homes shown to residents last November were shown as ideas, "not the end product," she said. Many issues still must be resolved, including the park and its uses, she added.
"I'm very pleased that Mr. Tze is willing to work with us and he said he wanted to make sure we're on the same page. I just think that's the best thing for everybody," she said.
The Planning and Transportation Commission review will take place in the Palo Alto City Council chambers, 250 Hamilton Ave., at 7 p.m.