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City nixes plan for medical offices at Town & Country Village

Council rejects shopping center's request to allow 'retail health' businesses

Upscale men's retailer Patrick James shuttered its location in Palo Alto's Town & Country Village in September 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

After flirting with the idea of allowing medical businesses at the Town & Country Village, the Palo Alto City Council abruptly dropped the idea on Monday night.

The idea was prompted by a request from the shopping center, which pointed to its growing vacancies and a persistent threat from e-commerce that is threatening some of its traditional retailers, particularly those in the apparel and furniture businesses. While the council was somewhat skeptical of the idea, members agreed in March to allow the city's Planning and Transportation Commission to further explore the idea and refine exactly what types of businesses would fit into the newly established category of "retail health."

The planning commission had similarly struggled to reach a consensus on the issue, ultimately voting 4-3 in May on a definition that excludes emergency care and urgent care services and that any leases with medical businesses should be signed before the end of 2023. The commission and staff had also agreed that medical uses should be limited to no more than 10% of the ground floor at the shopping center.

On Monday, however, the council majority proved reluctant to change the retail rules, even as Town & Country leaders maintained that they are still facing a long-term threat from online shopping.

Dean Rubinson, director of development for Ellis Partners, which owns the shopping center, noted that the shopping center's vacancy rate has recently grown from about 0.9% in 2015 to 6.4% in 2019 to the current level of 21.3%. Even though the rate is expected to drop to about 18% once the center welcomes in the vegan restaurant Wildseed and other eateries to fill the space left by the departure of Mayfield Bakery & Cafe, Rubinson argued that the online trend will continue to make it hard for many businesses to stay open.

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"While we believe that online sales will no longer have the same dominance that they had last year, we believe the habits that were developed last year will remain and that the e-commerce growth will continue well past COVID-19," Rubinson said.

He suggested that the shopping center be allowed to bring on businesses that offer health services but also have a retail component. The list of possible tenants he presented include Modern Acupuncture; Carbon Health, a provider of primary and urgent care; and Orange Twist, which specializes in skin treatment.

Mayfield Bakery & Cafe is among the businesses at Town & Country Village in Palo Alto that have shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The council didn't buy the explanation. Council member Greer Stone said he regularly comes to the shopping center, which is across the street from Palo Alto High School where he serves as student activities director, and often sees crowds there at all hours of the day. He pointed to the center's prime location at Embarcadero Road and El Camino Real and questioned the need to loosen retail rules for one particular shopping area.

"Other shopping centers are finding a way to thrive in our city," Stone said. "I believe Town & Country can too."

Most of his colleagues agreed and the council voted 5-2, with council members Alison Cormack and Greg Tanaka dissenting, to halt the city's monthslong exploration of the new "retail health" category. Mayor Tom DuBois suggested that the city had already spent too much time on this proposal.

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"I'm not convinced it's a good process to just pass this ordinance for one address," DuBois said.

Cormack and Tanaka both disagreed and supported Town & Country's plan. While several residents spoke out against allowing medical uses at the shopping center and submitted letters opposing the change, Cormack said that allowing them at 10% of the shopping center would constitute a "minor experiment."

"I talk with people and they're interested in having these services available," Cormack said.

Tanaka went further and suggested that the issue is "dire" and that the city needs to "move quickly" to save retail at a time when it's struggling.

"There's pretty big competition to fill these retail spaces not just in our city but other cities," Tanaka said. "I'm concerned that if we keep waiting, we're going to have a lot more trouble filling the spots and the fragile retail environment that we already have is going to be hurt."

Most council members agreed that while it might be a good idea for the city to adopt a "retail health" definition, this should not be done at the behest of a single property owner, particularly as the COVID-19 situation is quickly evolving and California is preparing to end its business restrictions on June 15. Council member Eric Filseth likened the process to "the tail wagging the dog," while Vice Mayor Pat Burt said he would be reluctant to see shops get replaced with medical offices, even ones with retail components.

"I think the future is that we do need to look at refining this definition, but I don't want to just fling open the gates and start nearly equating medical offices with retail," Burt said. "I don't think we got this right here."

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City nixes plan for medical offices at Town & Country Village

Council rejects shopping center's request to allow 'retail health' businesses

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Jun 8, 2021, 9:48 am

After flirting with the idea of allowing medical businesses at the Town & Country Village, the Palo Alto City Council abruptly dropped the idea on Monday night.

The idea was prompted by a request from the shopping center, which pointed to its growing vacancies and a persistent threat from e-commerce that is threatening some of its traditional retailers, particularly those in the apparel and furniture businesses. While the council was somewhat skeptical of the idea, members agreed in March to allow the city's Planning and Transportation Commission to further explore the idea and refine exactly what types of businesses would fit into the newly established category of "retail health."

The planning commission had similarly struggled to reach a consensus on the issue, ultimately voting 4-3 in May on a definition that excludes emergency care and urgent care services and that any leases with medical businesses should be signed before the end of 2023. The commission and staff had also agreed that medical uses should be limited to no more than 10% of the ground floor at the shopping center.

On Monday, however, the council majority proved reluctant to change the retail rules, even as Town & Country leaders maintained that they are still facing a long-term threat from online shopping.

Dean Rubinson, director of development for Ellis Partners, which owns the shopping center, noted that the shopping center's vacancy rate has recently grown from about 0.9% in 2015 to 6.4% in 2019 to the current level of 21.3%. Even though the rate is expected to drop to about 18% once the center welcomes in the vegan restaurant Wildseed and other eateries to fill the space left by the departure of Mayfield Bakery & Cafe, Rubinson argued that the online trend will continue to make it hard for many businesses to stay open.

"While we believe that online sales will no longer have the same dominance that they had last year, we believe the habits that were developed last year will remain and that the e-commerce growth will continue well past COVID-19," Rubinson said.

He suggested that the shopping center be allowed to bring on businesses that offer health services but also have a retail component. The list of possible tenants he presented include Modern Acupuncture; Carbon Health, a provider of primary and urgent care; and Orange Twist, which specializes in skin treatment.

The council didn't buy the explanation. Council member Greer Stone said he regularly comes to the shopping center, which is across the street from Palo Alto High School where he serves as student activities director, and often sees crowds there at all hours of the day. He pointed to the center's prime location at Embarcadero Road and El Camino Real and questioned the need to loosen retail rules for one particular shopping area.

"Other shopping centers are finding a way to thrive in our city," Stone said. "I believe Town & Country can too."

Most of his colleagues agreed and the council voted 5-2, with council members Alison Cormack and Greg Tanaka dissenting, to halt the city's monthslong exploration of the new "retail health" category. Mayor Tom DuBois suggested that the city had already spent too much time on this proposal.

"I'm not convinced it's a good process to just pass this ordinance for one address," DuBois said.

Cormack and Tanaka both disagreed and supported Town & Country's plan. While several residents spoke out against allowing medical uses at the shopping center and submitted letters opposing the change, Cormack said that allowing them at 10% of the shopping center would constitute a "minor experiment."

"I talk with people and they're interested in having these services available," Cormack said.

Tanaka went further and suggested that the issue is "dire" and that the city needs to "move quickly" to save retail at a time when it's struggling.

"There's pretty big competition to fill these retail spaces not just in our city but other cities," Tanaka said. "I'm concerned that if we keep waiting, we're going to have a lot more trouble filling the spots and the fragile retail environment that we already have is going to be hurt."

Most council members agreed that while it might be a good idea for the city to adopt a "retail health" definition, this should not be done at the behest of a single property owner, particularly as the COVID-19 situation is quickly evolving and California is preparing to end its business restrictions on June 15. Council member Eric Filseth likened the process to "the tail wagging the dog," while Vice Mayor Pat Burt said he would be reluctant to see shops get replaced with medical offices, even ones with retail components.

"I think the future is that we do need to look at refining this definition, but I don't want to just fling open the gates and start nearly equating medical offices with retail," Burt said. "I don't think we got this right here."

Comments

ALB
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jun 8, 2021 at 10:39 am
ALB, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 10:39 am

We are about to reach herd immunity and T&C is vibrant. We did not need to spot zone for this landlord just because he asked for it.

Thank you, the majority of the CC for doing the right thing. Your courage and fact-based thinking ensures the protection of this beloved community asset.

Chapeaux!


neighbor1200
Registered user
Professorville
on Jun 8, 2021 at 10:43 am
neighbor1200, Professorville
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 10:43 am

Personally, I'd rather see the City allow some medical offices at T&C than hold out for more sugary food options that actually aren't healthy for anyone. What's the logic in that? Can T&C start with medical offices on second floors (would they need elevators?)? It would be great to have some dentists at T&C. Why shouldn't certain kinds of medical care be easily available at a shopping center? Is it a less worthy or attractive use than a store selling supplements, almost none of which have passed clinically testing?


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2021 at 11:02 am
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 11:02 am

Good call, Council. Too much retail already has been dismantled for office space. If this site were the only retail site that had been transitioned to other use, I might agree it's a "minor experiment," but that's not the case. T&C is perfectly located for the types of retail and restaurants that are there. Further, Sutter Health and Stanford Medical Center and Packard Children's Hospital are right nearby.

Once again, Cormack and Tanaka advocate to maximize short term developer profit margins. Our city needs sales tax revenues. Owners of these spaces need to get a clue about land use balance and the need to have services handy; not only for residents, but also for local workers who need places to run errands and eat meals during their workdays. Diverse, thriving retail makes cities attractive places both to live and to work. Their short-sighted greed for higher margins is destroying our community for us AND for them in the long term.


Merilee Steinman
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Jun 8, 2021 at 11:39 am
Merilee Steinman, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 11:39 am

Nobody shops at T&C Village anymore.

All of their classic stores have either gone out of business or downsized.

Considering Palo Alto's penchant for dining out, perhaps turning TC Village into a huge food court or a number of individualized restaurants might be the best option.

I've noticed that there are a lot of obese people residing in both Palo Alto and Mountain View.

Is this what happens to a pervasive dining-out community?


Novelera
Registered user
Midtown
on Jun 8, 2021 at 11:48 am
Novelera, Midtown
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 11:48 am

Thank you, City Council. I have shopped regularly at T&C and dined there as well. I am fully vaccinated and plan to return to the restaurants there, especially Kirk's. The bookstore is a gem and we are lucky to have it. It's a wealth of choices between Books, Inc. and Kepler's, a bit further away.

It was scary to think our city council, with the exception of the two usual suspects, was even considering giving in to the landlord's scheme. He was using a pandemic as cover for lining his pockets with "sure thing" tenants.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 8, 2021 at 12:04 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 12:04 pm

Thank you, City Council (except for Mr. Tanaka and Ms Cormack) for rejecting this just when the economy is starting to recover and when people are starting to shop again.

As for the claim that no one shops at Town & Country, just look at the parking lot; it's so crowded that people have trouble backing out of their parking spaces.

Re the question about putting offices on the 2d floor, the Ellis reps said they can't because of the disability laws because there are no elevators. Obviously it never dawned on them to spend the money to put in elevators.

I'd love to know how much considering this lame proposal cost the city which failed from the start to define "medical retail" or to differentiate between medical offices and "medical retail" and were too lazy to go out and interview tenants on why T&C vacancy rates are higher than elsewhere. If they had, they might have learned something about Ellis' lousy track record with all the tenants they mistreated and chased out, all the businesses they destroyed. Their presentation quoting 4 bland statements of praise from tenants was laughable, like the clerks at Gott's are knowledgeable about the business end of things/

I guess they all forgot the term "Fake Retail" which was used to justify putting offices like SRI's downtown and even though they sold nothing. I was always temped to go in an order a pound of mult-client studies just to make the point they sold nothing.


Mama
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jun 8, 2021 at 12:12 pm
Mama, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 12:12 pm

Agree Council made the right call. How about this...give out a few one-year leases to keep the center operating, then convert to retail after that?


peppered
Registered user
Community Center
on Jun 8, 2021 at 12:17 pm
peppered, Community Center
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 12:17 pm

Why is the Council dictating this? Retail locations are hurting badly.
They should be allowed to rent to at least some medical offices if that's good for their business.
And it would only increase foot traffic since many retail locations are vacant.

Isn't this centralized planning? Whatever happened to the free market?


chris
Registered user
University South
on Jun 8, 2021 at 12:22 pm
chris, University South
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 12:22 pm

There is no problem finding a place to buy things in Palo Alto, except for big box shopping.

The majority of council is living in the past. The US has been overstored for a long time and the increasing shift to big box stores and online shopping are accelerating the trend.

What the majority of council does not understand (not being economists) is that the excess amount of retail in Palo Alto is hurting the ability of remaining stores to survive.


C. Z. Trefz
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jun 8, 2021 at 12:33 pm
C. Z. Trefz, College Terrace
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 12:33 pm

When my great uncle owned T&C he allowed medical offices on-site, to be more specific a dermatologist and psoriasis clinic. I see no reason why T&C can't have more one-stop shopping which includes medical or even aesthetic practices.


eileen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Jun 8, 2021 at 12:38 pm
eileen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 12:38 pm

I would love to see a quality sewing store. Something on the level of Britex.
Quality fabrics and craft items. No Joann Fabrics, please! Yes, you can buy fabric online but it's important to be able to touch and see what you are buying, especially if it's beautiful fabric!


Lynne Henderson
Registered user
Mountain View
on Jun 8, 2021 at 1:16 pm
Lynne Henderson, Mountain View
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 1:16 pm

T&C is a very busy shopping center--and has been for 40+ years. Given its proximity to Stanford and Paly, good businesses can and will survive there. Transforming it into PAMF "south" or "alternative medicine" places will only hurt in the long run. in the meantime, we'd lose Books, Inc., several decent restaurants, good optical stores, and other places easy to access (despite parking and traffic issues already)
Respectfully,
Lynne


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 8, 2021 at 1:28 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 1:28 pm

If Town & Country really cared about "medical" they would have tried to keep respected long-term eye doctor Liza Berkowitz instead of going for all chain stores. I they really cared about our medical well-being, they would have recruited independent doctors and dentists and eye doctors, not chains.

Stores like Britex would be great, as would resident-serving businesses like the excellent tailor/ seamstress at Nouvelle Bridal which Town & Country bounced a few years ago to replace it with a whole series of unappealing short-term tenants.

There's no shortage of the standard big box retailers nearby but we desperately need independent and interesting retail like Asian groceries, art supply stores and framers bounced from their downtown locations etc.


Leland J.
Registered user
Professorville
on Jun 8, 2021 at 1:58 pm
Leland J. , Professorville
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 1:58 pm

[Portion removed.] Even before Covid, retail has been declining precipitously. Vacancies at T+C are 20%... yet the posters here describe the landlord's reasonable request to diversify 10% of the space (for medical offices!) as some kind of "scheme" by the "greedy corporate owner". As if this is all part of a nefarious plot.

In a few months, when the landlord is forced to bring in more chain stores, the same posters will whine incessantly about the lack of locally owned independent businesses, and how we're turning PA into WalMart ... all from the safety and comfort of their million-dollar homes.


Dusty Pierce
Registered user
Barron Park
on Jun 8, 2021 at 6:55 pm
Dusty Pierce, Barron Park
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 6:55 pm

For those old enough to remember, T&C Village should bring back the mule driven wagons that entertained children while their parents were shopping.

Also bring back some of the merchant types that put T&C Village on the map like S. Christian Copenhagen, Spiro's, Prestige, the Maserati dealership, Edy's, Patrick James and others.

At present the place is BORING.


The Voice of Palo Alto
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jun 8, 2021 at 8:15 pm
The Voice of Palo Alto, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 8:15 pm

I am very thankful for this! I don’t want sick people(non-Covid times) near me or coughing around me when I’m trying to relax and eat my beloved Kirk’s steakburgers and Kira’s cupcakes!

I am also getting tired of Tanaka’s act regarding seemingly “only” backing developers for profits. I will be monitoring Tanaka and all Tanaka related activities now to make sure there aren’t anymore campaign violations or any other nonsense from him! No more funny business Tanaka…I am watching you.

@ Merilee-“Nobody shops at T&C Village anymore.”
From the article: Council member Greer Stone said he regularly comes to the shopping center, which is across the street from Palo Alto High School where he serves as student activities director, and often sees crowds there at all hours of the day”
Hmmm…so I guess that’s not actually true. According to the great Greer Stone T & C Village is packed with shoppers! Get money T & C and stay open!

@peppered-Why is the Council dictating this?
The council is in charge and you will respect their decision.

I’m glad T & C will not have these boring medical offices. Take that Leland!


Finally
Registered user
Midtown
on Jun 8, 2021 at 8:30 pm
Finally, Midtown
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 8:30 pm

Thank you, City Council! This was the right move.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 8, 2021 at 9:49 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 9:49 pm

"@peppered-Why is the Council dictating this?
The council is in charge and you will respect their decision."

Also because T&C asked for a zoning/code change that could have applied to all other shopping centers / districts in Palo Alto many of which already have medical OFFICE tenants. I

f you listened to the debate, Tanaka and Cormack were already trying to stipulate when that expansion could happen. When the need for an econonic development staffer/consultant was pointed out to stimulate retail businesses and evaluate claims about what stimulates foot traffic, Ms. Cormack immediately and transparently tried to expand the motion include OTHER businesses beyond retail -- as if PA needs to pay to attract more offices!


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 9, 2021 at 11:27 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Jun 9, 2021 at 11:27 am

In a local paper they used the term "Food Mall" with a list of all of the new restaurants that are waiting to open at T&C. Los Altos is also planning a food mall in downtown that will have all type vendors. This is a move to make the local city scene friendly to all of the residents and visitors so they have a reason to hang out and visit. Lots of types of restaurants listed. This idea did not pop up in a vacuum - it is looking at how other cities are working to revitalize their local business base. Better than clothes and shoes.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 9, 2021 at 12:31 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 9, 2021 at 12:31 pm

The Los Altos "food mall" is an entire very modern building on State Street sponsored by several folks from Google to revitalize downtown. It's more modeled on the San Francisco Ferry Building concept.

Web Link

"Downtown Los Altos is getting a massive food hall
Uploaded: Feb 4, 2020
San Francisco has the Ferry Building. San Jose, the San Pedro Square Market. Napa, the Oxbow Market.

And soon, the Peninsula will have its own food hall.

State Street Market, a two-story, 33,000-square-foot building, is currently under construction at 160 and 170 State St. in downtown Los Altos. Local developer Los Altos Community Investments, which was founded by Anne Wojcicki (the co-founder and CEO of 23andMe), is behind the project...

Plans submitted to the city show an interior and exterior remodel for a mixed-use food hall and market. The 16,505-square-foot ground floor will include a coffee bar, ice cream shop, ramen bar, raw bar, teaching kitchen, a bar, restaurant and something called "healthy bowl," according to the project plans. On the second floor, which is office space, there will also be a fitness area, lounge and meeting rooms, according to the plans."


2 of the new Town & Country restaurants are strictly takeout, one a Thai chicken place and the other a dessert place for ice cream (or similar). The other is a dine-in restaurant replacing Mayfield Bakery.

Big difference between the two in terms of scope, creativity and drawing power.


rita vrhel
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jun 9, 2021 at 3:44 pm
rita vrhel, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jun 9, 2021 at 3:44 pm

Thank you City Council for not "spot zoning" at T & C.

Like Council member Stone, I find T& C packed when I am there.

Ellis has, per report, a long history of not supporting his tenants, i.e. The Cheese House and Prestige. He may need to reduce his rents for the short term to fill his stores. Is that so bad? Believe it is called doing business.

Changing our zoning regulations every time a "special interest" person requests will result in no consistent zoning regulations. This has happened on El Camino and additional zoning regulation changes are being requested this week at the PTC.

Thank you City Council for saying NO!

What a difference it has made having a City Council majority that questions developer requests rather than rubber stamping them. Now if we can just get Staff to attend to the important issues in town.


Name hidden
Downtown North

Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 10:55 am
Name hidden, Downtown North

Registered user
on Jun 10, 2021 at 10:55 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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