Alma Plaza, a south Palo Alto development that earned the City Council's approval more than two years ago, hit a milestone this week when the city issued building permits that will allow construction to begin.
The permits are a major step forward for the contentious project, which was approved in January 2009 after dozens of hearings and vocal opposition from a group of area residents. The development by John McNellis will ultimately include a grocery store, 37 homes, 15 units of affordable housing, a small park and a community room. The grocery store will be a particularly coveted amenity for a plaza that has been without one since Albertsons closed in 2005.
This week, construction is set to begin on the centerpiece of the plaza -- a mixed-use building featuring the grocery store. McNellis said the permits will allow workers to start digging out an underground garage at the site.
Though McNellis is still searching for a grocer, he said there's been some progress on that front. He has been in talks with an independent grocer to run the new 20,000 square foot store, though nothing has been signed to date.
"We believe we're close to a deal with a market for the whole 20,000 square feet -- the first floor and the basement," McNellis said.
As part of the city's approval, McNellis is required to sign a lease for the new grocery store before he can start selling the first half of the new homes. The remaining homes could start getting sold once the store opens,
McNellis has yet to find a builder for the new homes (the original homebuilder, Greenbriar Homes, pulled out and launched a lawsuit against McNellis, which has since been settled), but he doesn't expect the search to be a problem. The new homes would have to be built exactly to the specifications approved by the council in 2009, he said.
He said he is just now starting to talk to homebuilders and expects to have one in place in the next 30 to 45 days.
Meanwhile, construction of the building that will include the new grocery store is scheduled to be completed in June 2012, he said.
According to Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie, who emailed a progress report on Alma Plaza to the council Tuesday, there could be some "site vibration during this phase and footings for the foundation are installed."