Cupertino-based developer Sobrato Organization has purchased a 15-acre property in Palo Alto that includes Fry's Electronics -- a site that city officials eye as a potential location for major land-use changes.
The property on Portage Avenue, close to the intersection of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road, is currently the subject of a "concept plan" Palo Alto officials are putting together as they consider new land-use designations for the area. Fry's Electronics, the site's most prominent tenant, has a lease extending to 2014, with a five-year option after that.
Planning director Curtis Williams confirmed the sale but said it should have little effect on planning and zoning at the site. He said Sobrato informed the city several months ago about its plans to buy the site. Williams said Sobrato officials indicated they have "no immediate plans for the site," given Fry's existing lease and its option to extend the lease.
"Sobrato is generally a high-density residential developer, so we expect that's what they have in mind down the line," Williams said.
The "Fry's site," which also includes a scattering of smaller high-tech companies, has emerged in recent years as one of Palo Alto's major land-use wildcards, with city officials and consultants considering alternative uses for the prominent location near the center of the city.
With Palo Alto facing a regional mandate to plan for thousands of units of new housing, the site is one of several that city officials say could support new housing because of its proximity to the transit-oriented district on California Avenue.
The site is currently zoned for residential use, though it also accommodates commercial use. The intent of the new concept plan, according to a December report by Senior Planner Elena Lee, is to "evaluate development intensities, potential for more housing, retention and enhancement of retail/service opportunities, and improved pedestrian and bicycle connections."
"Specific focus was given to preferred uses of the Fry's Electronics site and the character of the California Avenue business district," Lee wrote.
Palo Alto officials have also repeatedly stressed the importance of maintaining Fry's Electronics, either at its present site or elsewhere in the city.
The site's previous owner, the Robert Wheatley Group, had also proposed greater intensification of development at the site, specifically for multi-family housing. In October, Robert Wheatley sent a letter to the city, proposing a new land-use map for the site that would allow multi-family zoning allowing up to 50 units per acre with "four stories of apartment over podium as a potential prototype." Wheatley's proposed zoning would also allow up to three stories of office use.
According to the a report from Lee, Wheatley also expressed concern about the site's viability for commercial use, "given its lack of visibility along El Camino Real and the future use of the site should Fry's Electronics leave after their lease expires in 2014."
The Sobrato company could not be immediately reached for comment.