The dilapidated Edgewood Plaza shopping center at the entrance to Palo Alto's Embarcadero Road has won approval to transform into a multi-use planned community. The process took nearly 10 years and the Palo Alto City Council approved the renovation Monday night.
The Eichler-built development has slowly fallen into disrepair since Lucky, then Albertson’s left the main grocery space, and today that building lays vacant alongside other empty storefronts.
When Sand Hill Homes finishes the 3.58-acre Edgewood Plaza, there will be 10 two-story homes alongside a remodeled retail area and a public park, all of which were designed to complement the mid-century modern architectural theme developed by Eichler, who once headquartered his firm there.
Palo Alto city staff and members of the Architectural Review Board, Historic Resources Board, and Planning and Transportation Commission spoke strongly in favor of green-lighting the Final Environmental Impact Report as well as an amendment to the civil code and a tentative map of the home subdivision.
The amendment to the city’s municipal code approves a Planned Community Zone District allowing renovation of three retail buildings, relocation of a fourth, construction of ten single-family homes, and creation of a .2-acre park and associated site improvements.
The tentative map that was approved merges what were once three distinct parcels into one giant parcel that Sand Hill will re-subdivide into eleven parcels—one commercial and ten residential—plus off-site improvements, for the site at 2080 Channing Avenue.
“We have finally gotten to a point where a majority of the community and the applicants are on the same page,” said Curtis Williams, Director of Planning and Community Environment.
Indeed, most of the twelve public speakers who addressed Council—all of whom lived in the immediate vicinity of Edgewood Shopping Center—spoke favorably of the plan, Sand Hill’s outreach efforts, and the work of city staff. Most exciting to locals, however, is the planned addition of a Fresh Market grocery store.
“Most people are very excited about having the Fresh Market come,” said Gail Olsen, who lives in a neighboring Eichler home. She said the Albertsons that occupied that space was “dirty, the product was poor quality, and it was expensive.”
Today, nearby residents have to drive or bike away from the neighborhood to get their groceries.
“We’re all excited about having a place where we can walk and bike to do our shopping and have coffee,” said Olsen.
Council members were also largely supportive of the plan, but many of them expressed great concern over traffic and parking issues.
Council Member Pat Burt said the plan did not properly account for the fast flow of exiting freeway traffic from Highway 101, which makes it difficult for drivers turning left onto St. Francis from Embarcadero. That intersection doesn’t have a green left-turn arrow, forcing drivers to wait for oncoming traffic to pass. Since traffic from the freeway is often going 55 miles per hour, and comes as a steady stream during rush hour, the drivers going the opposite direction have to wait a long time to make that turn.
“I think that’s a big part of what makes this real hazardous,” said Burt. “We need to figure out ways that we’re going to be able to address those issues.”
Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez said that a green left-turn arrow would certainly help mitigate that intersection, and adding a signal would cost somewhere in the ballpark of $120,000.
Burt later motioned that that upgrade be made a condition for approval of the project.
Parking was also a major concern, since the new plan reduces the number of parking spaces from the existing 250 to 156. Sand Hill hired a third party traffic analysis firm to assess parking needs, and they concluded that 156 spaces would be sufficient. City staff agreed with those findings and signed off on the result.
Council Member Karen Holman noted, however, that the existing office building being used by the Maharishi Enlightenment Center of Palo Alto will require more than 60 parking spaces if it is ever used as an office again. If that occurs, said Planning Director Curtis Williams, the applicant will have to find a way to deal with parking, which may be impossible since the parking lot will be at full capacity.
Council members also worried about the reduction of the number of driveways to and from the parking lots from six to two. But again, city staff agreed with the analysis done by traffic experts, who concluded that two access points would be enough.
Council Member Burt was the first to motion to approve the plan, along with two additional amendments—one for the left-turn arrow onto St. Francis, and another requiring the driveway in the rear of the Shell Gas Station to remain open.
“The community has been looking forward to this project for along while, and I think we have something that is a very good balance of a variety of competing interests,” said Burt. “No balancing act is ever perfect, but I think this is one that has worked very hard to come up with something that I think the community will be very pleased with once it is built.”
Council Member Greg Scharf seconded the motion and thanked developer Jim Baer for his commitment to working closely with neighbors, and for bringing in another place to buy food.
“I’d like to thank the applicant for bringing a grocery store,” he said.
One by one, the rest of the council members offered enthusiastic—if measured—support for the project, with the exception of Karen Holman, who, although generally supportive, wasn’t satisfied that the EIR was complete and therefore could not support approval.
After more than three hours of debate, City Council voted to green-light Edgewood Plaza on a 8-1 vote with Holman voting against.