Edgewood Plaza seeks planned-community zone

Commission set to review historic Eichler commercial center Sept. 15

Plans to rebuild the historic Edgewood Plaza shopping center, developed by Joseph Eichler in the 1950s, and add 10 homes to the Palo Alto property will be reviewed Sept. 15 by the city's Planning and Transportation Commission.

As part of the plans, landowner Sand Hill Property is asked for a zoning change, to Planned Community (PC), an often-controversial designation that allows denser-than-normal development.

The plans call for a small "pocket park" on the Embarcadero Road property as a public benefit, in exchange for relaxing development standards under the PC zone.

The retail center is one of the only commercial developments in the Eichler style, according to preservationists, and contains three commercial buildings.

The property has been in disrepair and largely vacant since an Albertsons grocery store closed in August 2006. At the time, neighbors and Sand Hill Property were at odds over the number of proposed homes and what to do with the aging commercial structures, which some people felt should be preserved.

Three residents who constituted the neighborhood's official Architectural Control Committee for Tract No. 1641 -- Diane Sekimura, Martin Yonke and Kim Fletcher -- filed a lawsuit in 2008. In it, they stated all plans for Edgewood must receive their approval and that, under a historic agreement made by the Eichler homeowners, the retail district must remain in place.

Sand Hill and the committee reached a settlement last October that reduced the number of homes from 25 to 10 and preserves the three commercial buildings.

The property has remained largely vacant due to the economy, Sand Hill Project Manager John Tze said. The company continues to talk with potential anchor grocery stores. Considering it could be awhile before Tze gets a commitment, Sand Hill is going ahead with the planning process because everyone is expecting some progress on the project, he said.

Residents who have looked at the plans submitted to the city said there are some differences in terms of the elevation and style of the homes from what was presented to the neighborhood 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 (neighbors) wanted to be sure there was no 'bait and switch,'" Brandon Baum, attorney for the committee, 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 last November.

Tze said the intent is to remain in keeping with an Eichler style. He did not elaborate on the differences between the two designs but said the designs are not final. The drawings are meant to show the intent of the development, he said.

Sekimura said Tze contacted her 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.

She confirmed that current designs for the homes are not final. Many issues regarding Edgewood 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," she said.

Editor's note: The meeting was originally planned for Sept. 1 and has been changed to Sept. 15.

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Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 30, 2010 at 12:32 pm

How do Palo Altan's feel about this? I worry about the traffic impact, but I know this can be good for the economy.

Like this comment
Posted by svatoid
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 30, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I think this should remain a shopping center only--we could have a large grocery store and other retail. However, I also know that people will oppose this for various reasons---traffic, too much competition for JJ&F, the fear that people from East Palo Alto will come there to shop etc. Anyway, I think we have nothing to worry about--this will be Alma Plaza 2--it will languish in the council for years, certain people will organize to oppose it, just like with Alma Plaza (maybe even the same people!!), the council will be afraid to make a decision and will punt the ball to task forces, committees and blue ribbon panels. In the end, like with Alma Plaza we will end up with something that nobody likes.
If the council had a spine and a clear vision for Palo Alto, they would keep it all retail with a large grocery store.

Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 30, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Good points - as a local, I appreciate your input.

Yes, be scared, Shallow Altans - we shop in your town! Alas, we prefer not to, some of us going out of our way to shop in our county, at the farther away TJs, Whole Foods, Sigonas, etc. Oh, yeah, we also have a great grocery store in our own town, & the taquerias here beat Sancho's, hands down (when Sanchos starts using bolillos for their tortas I'll return).

Like this comment
Posted by litebug
a resident of another community
on Aug 30, 2010 at 9:50 pm

I'm sitting here shaking my head, laughing, and trying to remember how many years ago it was that I first attended meetings about Edgewood Plaza. I lived nearby, on the south side of Embarcadero and moved away 2 years ago. Was it 5 years ago, or even longer, when meetings first started with Mr. Tze? And so far what has happened, other than a lot of hot air, more meetings and more paperwork? From what I can determine, by following the story on Palo Alto Online, what has happened, in any real terms, is nada, zilch, zip. Pathetic but so typical.

Like this comment
Posted by Traffic?
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 31, 2010 at 10:46 am

Traffic? Won't there be almost exactly the same amount of traffic that was there before the place went vacant? Only 10 extra single family houses is not going to add that much extra traffic to the neighborhood. For god sakes this place is an eyesore and adding the shopping center is going to help the neighborhood house values. This is a good thing and anyone opposing it has their heads up their @$$.

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