News

Palo Alto defers master plan for Fry's site

Council votes not to use state funds to develop a new vision for 15-acre site

Palo Alto officials rarely turn down grant funding but they made an exception on Monday night when they agreed not to launch a long-discussed master plan for the area around Fry's Electronics.

Instead, the City Council unanimously voted to defer the plan for the 15-acre site until after it adopts a broader vision for the various neighborhoods around California Avenue. The decision not to move ahead with the plan was reached despite recognition that this could effectively nullify a $256,000 grant that the city had received from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for this purpose.

The area, commonly referred to as the Fry's site because of its flagship tenant, is seen by the council and planning officials as one of the city's most promising areas for developing new housing. A report from city planners calls it one of the city's "largest underdeveloped sites" and says it provides "a unique opportunity to plan for a variety of uses," with housing topping the list.

The city's Housing Element lists the site as capable of accommodating a "realistic capacity" of 221 new housing units. The site's location near the California Avenue Caltrain station also makes it ripe for transportation improvements, which the master plan would also consider.

"The coordinated area plan would identify land use and transportation opportunities, include a site plan with a mix of uses, and seek to enhance the site's transit oriented character by improving vehicular, pedestrian and transit opportunities," the report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment reads.

Earlier this year, council members were anxious to launch the planning process out of fear that Fry's would leave and that the site would be redeveloped without adequate guidance from the city and the community. Since then, however, Fry's has extended its lease and is now set to remain at its current location, at 340 Portage Ave., until at least early 2020, said Tim Steele, senior vice president for the Sobrato Organization, which owns the site.

With the sense of urgency gone, the council decided not to pursue the grant and the master plan at this time. The decision was reached after Steele committed up to $300,000 of Sobrato's money to help pay for a master plan for the Fry's site in the future, provided the city does not pursue the state funds now. The pledge was made in response to Councilman Marc Berman's question about whether Sobrato would be willing to "backfill" the grant funds once the city is ready to move ahead with the planning process.

Steele said Sobrato had approached the city before Fry's exercised its option to extend the lease to express its interest in participating in the master plan and possibly help pay for it.

"We talked to staff about the appropriate vehicle to fund it," Steele said.

The council was all too happy to take Steele up on his offer, which Councilwoman Liz Kniss characterized as a "gentleman's agreement."

Councilman Eric Filseth made the motion not to proceed with the master plan at this time and his colleagues quickly agreed. Instead, the council will now focus on adopting the broader plan for the 115-acre around California Avenue before zooming in on the Fry's site.

Going forward with the Fry's plan before the larger vision document is adopted, Filseth said. would be "putting the cart before a horse."

"I don't think it should be driven by a short-term grant," Filseth said.

In possibly losing the grant funding (which would have to be spent by 2018), the council completely agreed with Herb Borock, a land-use watchdog who wrote a letter criticizing the proposed sequence of the planning efforts.

"It is bad planning to develop a site-specific master plan for the Fry's Site prior to the time the Council adopts a Comprehensive Plan that includes an internally consistent set of policies and programs for the city's planning area as a whole, and for the California Avenue area that includes the Fry's site," Borock wrote.

Berman and Kniss both said they agree with Borock.

"We've added a lot to our plate this year, and to the staff plate," Berman said, referring to the wide array of planning processes and transportation programs the city is now pursuing. "It's an opportunity to not only remove something from staff's plate but remove something that logically belongs later in the timeline."

Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 24, 2015 at 9:55 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

Will Fry's be grandfathered into Palo Alto (in terms of store size) if they move/build at a new or rebuilt location? I can't imagine being forced to travel elsewhere.


16 people like this
Posted by NIMBYWORLD
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 24, 2015 at 10:30 am

How foolish to turn down planning funds. Why plan ? We love run down 50 yr old outdated sprawling bldgs , dont we ? Well then again, this is the same group that turned down a state of the art $45+M Police Station because , God Forbid, there might be redevelopment at a CalTrain Station. When will it stop? When will the silent Majority wake up and overrule the vocal Minority in this town? Sensible growth is the mainstay of an evolving community. Keep it up PA, hope you like Detroit !


10 people like this
Posted by Concerned citizen of Palo Alto
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 24, 2015 at 10:43 am

Can we say "appearance of conflict of interest"? Letting a developer pay for a master plan can't be good practice. The City already collects plenty of taxes from residents and others. Planning should proceed without developers driving the processes, policies, and practices.


11 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 24, 2015 at 11:13 am

Good. And those piddly grants rarely cover the real cost to Palo Alto residents in both dollars and hassle.

How much did we get for the $7.5 million Cal Ave "redesign"? A few hundred thousand dollars and years of construction.


13 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 24, 2015 at 11:15 am

PS: How much does Fry's generate in annual sales tax revenue? More than the grant?


8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 24, 2015 at 11:35 am

"Keep it up PA, hope you like Detroit !"

Excellent segue. Thanks.

Once upon a time everybody thought Detroit would be on top of the world forever. After all, making cars required a lot of infrastructure, and Detroit had more auto factories than the rest of the world. Then came the competition... .

Palo Alto's software boom is way less permanent. You cannot make a Chevy on the kitchen table, but you can write lots killer aps there. The rest of world knows that, even if our local parochialists do no

Palo Alto needs to heed the lesson of Detroit and plan for the after-boom comedown.



"PS: How much does Fry's generate in annual sales tax revenue? More than the grant?"

Annual is the wrong period, unless the grant renews annually.

I hope the author of this is either intentionally deceitful, or is not a product of Palo Alto schools. [Portion removed]


4 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 24, 2015 at 12:25 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

How this significant site is developed needs to part of a larger perspective and by this I don't only mean that adjacent areas but Palo Alto as a whole. Long term what does Palo Alto need that this site could provide?


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 24, 2015 at 1:04 pm

PACC got it right again. And they're not as dumb as some people think. They know $300,000 is a bigger number than $256,000. C'mon CC, lighten up. I'm just teasing with you. You should know that by now.


Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 24, 2015 at 1:07 pm

PACC got it right again. They aren't as dumb as some people think they are. They know $300,000 is a bigger number than $256,000. C'mon CC, lighten up. I'm just teasing with you. You should know that by now.


8 people like this
Posted by John Galt
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 24, 2015 at 9:11 pm

NEW HOUSING NEW HOUSING NEW HOUSING NEW HOUSING NO WATER NO SCHOOLS NO PARKING MORE TRAFFIC CALMING BY JAMMIN' DA STREETS. Another great asset to be plundered by the Real Estate interests.


8 people like this
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 25, 2015 at 11:23 am

Hulkamania is a registered user.

Isn't Sobrato the guy who sued Sunnyvale to stop sewer hook ups to new commercial buildings so he could jack up the rent is his already built rentals?


2 people like this
Posted by Kazu
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 25, 2015 at 10:04 pm

From the article:

"A report from city planners calls it one of the city's "largest underdeveloped sites" and says it provides "a unique opportunity to plan for a variety of uses," with housing topping the list."

And its owner has not expressed any interest in developing the site. The city might lose the $256,000 grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, but how much of its own money would it have to chip in to do the study? Would it be worth it given that the site will not be redeveloped for some time, perhaps many years?


4 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 29, 2015 at 9:18 am

Another example of a short sighted decision by politicians who are being reactive and thinking about their re-election rather than what's best for the community. This site will redevelop and it's best for the community and local government to guide this process. Five years is short term for planning purposes, the city should act now to identify what they would like to see at the site - 2020 will be upon us before we know it.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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