Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - March 23, 2012

Editorial: Finally, Edgewood Plaza to get a facelift

New grocery store, 10 homes will move into historic Eichler shopping area on Embarcadero Road

After more than five years of effort Edgewood Plaza, the forlorn relic of what once was the vibrant shopping core for hundreds of Eichler homes in Palo Alto, will be redeveloped, a major accomplishment for the neighborhood and the owner, Sand Hill Property Co.

It is a welcome outcome for the historic center, built in 1957 by Joseph Eichler and other collaborators near Embarcadero and West Bayshore roads. The original plan included a grocery store, two retail buildings, as well as an office building that housed the office of Eichler Homes in 1959. A gas station also was part of the center and opened in 1957.

But while most of the 2,700 Eichler homes built in Palo Alto in the late 1950s are still occupied, including many that have been upgraded, the Edgewood Plaza slowly deteriorated as residents found other shopping venues with more choices. The last active grocery store at Edgewood was Albertson's, which left in 2006.

That will change in a dramatic way when the plan authorized by an 8-1 City Council vote Monday begins to take shape. One of the historic retail buildings will be moved and The Fresh Market, owned by a group that specializes in organic food, will occupy the grocery-store space. It hopes to open in 2013, according to the company, and will be the first store west of the Mississippi for the 115-store chain.

The other key factors approved in the PC-zoned redevelopment are construction of 10 two-story homes and a small community park. The new homes, designed in the Eichler style, will feature open spaces, natural light and glassy exteriors, similar to the ubiquitous single-story Eichler designs that continue to remain popular with homeowners in the city.

Karen Holman was the only council member to vote against approval, saying she was concerned about traffic safety, due to the plaza's location on a traffic corridor next to Highway 101.

Over more than five years in the making, the final plan is the product of numerous public hearings, a lawsuit filed against it by neighbors and many revisions in the design, including a reduction to 10 homes, rather than more than 30 in the original proposal. Neighbors mostly were concerned about traffic impacts and parking. Council members Gred Schmid and Larry Klein echoed some of Holman's traffic concerns, but ultimately were able to support the project. City staff members said traffic around the plaza will be addressed as work progresses on the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan.

For many residents of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood, who frequently drive or walk past the dilapidated structures in the plaza, a makeover will be a welcome sight, as will convenient access to a modern grocery store.

"We've known this was always going to be a neighborhood shopping center and a neighborhood shopping center means a grocery store," John Tze of Sand Hill Property told the council. "We've known that we'll need to bring a grocery store, and the grocery store is The Fresh Market," which should appeal to Palo Altans who frequent farmers markets and have come to expect fresh organic foods to be available in their grocery store.

Many supporters of the often-revised plan spoke at the council hearing, including some who had opposed a previous plan and came around to back the final version. Two, Martin Yonke and Diane Sekimura, who were involved in a lawsuit against the project, said they now look forward to seeing the property redeveloped.

A key factor in the approval process was noted by Architectural Review Board Chair Judith Wasserman, who said, "It is a very important project ... in that it revitalizes a really dead corner at one of the main entrances to town. It's a significant project. We felt it was very successful in doing what it intended to do, which was consider the viability of the retail component," which she said was achieved by relocating one of the buildings. When the city's Historic Resources Board Chair Martin Bernstein said relocation would not reduce the "Eichler feeling," or harm the plaza's historical significance, it meant that all parking in the plaza could be contained in one place, alleviating a major neighborhood concern.

In the final analysis, the successful plaza design was able to overcome the historical significance of the site by winning approval from the city's Planning and Transportation Commission, Historic Resources Board and the Architectural Review Board. Along with the neighborhoods adjacent to the project, we look forward to seeing this once-forlorn site again become a vibrant asset at an important gateway to the city.

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