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Planned auto dealership gives bicyclists reason to cheer

Mercedes-Benz project at former Ming's Restaurant site includes bike path to the Baylands

The proposed Mercedes-Benz dealership at 1700 Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto would include a bike path running along Embarcadero and East Bayshore Road. Rendering courtesy SPARC+ Architecture Studios.

Bicyclists rarely get excited about new car dealerships, but the one currently proposed for the former site of Ming's Restaurant would come with a rare and valuable amenity: a new bike path to the Baylands.

The application from Swickard Auto Group, which the City Council is set to review on Dec. 5, feels in some ways like déjà vu. The city had reviewed a Mercedes-Benz dealership proposal for the same site in 2016 and recommended a host of changes, including significant downsizing. The property owner instead sold the site and the council soon found itself debating another dealership application under the new owner, this time for Mercedes and Audi. After some debate and community opposition from residents who complained that the new dealership was too massive, the council in 2019 approved the proposal from Holman Auto Group.

The project, however, was never built. Instead, the property was sold yet again and last year Swickard submitted another application, which differs from the prior two in significant ways. At 31,195 square feet, it's about half the size of the original Mercedes proposal and significantly smaller than the one from Mercedes/Audi, which would have been about 54,000 square feet.

The buildings would be limited to one- and two-story sections, lower than the prior proposals, and the cars would be parked on outdoor surface lots and not indoors, like in the prior proposals.

"We're approximately half the size and, what we really believe, half the impact of the earlier applications," Eric Iversen, director of real estate and facilities at Swickard, told the Planning and Transportation Commission during its Oct. 26 review.

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But for city officials and local bicyclists, the biggest draw is the bike path, which was also a feature of a prior dealership proposal. It would be 10 feet wide run and it would run along Embarcadero and East Bayshore roads, creating easy access to the Baylands preserve. Art Liberman, vice chair of the Palo Alto Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said at a recent hearing on the project that the trail would also help close the gap at the Palo Alto section of the regional trail network known as the Bay Trail.

"Cyclists riding in Palo Alto on the multiuse path along East Bayshore who want to continue on the Bay Trail now must detour to Faber Place and then cross Embarcadero in mid-block," Liberman said at the Oct. 26 hearing in front of the planning commission. "This, I can tell you, is a risky proposition."

Both the commission and the Architectural Review Board have already signed off on the project, with each panel signaling strong support for the new bike path. The path, they noted, offers an alternative for Swickard to comply with the city's policy of requiring transportation demand management programs that reduce car traffic by 15%. The auto dealership, because of its very nature, will never be able to meet that policy, said Sylvia Star-Lack, the city's transportation manager.

"The bike path is a fantastic option for this applicant to put forward in lieu of meeting a policy," she said at the commission's Oct. 26 review. "This bike path is not here just because we want to have a bike path. It's here also to provide a way for this applicant to get a little closer to meeting the TDM policy that unfortunately, because it's an auto-oriented dealership, they will not be able to meet."

Commission Chair Ed Lauing, who will join the council next year, called the path "absolutely essential."

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"It really fixes a bigger problem that we have there, of people just walking on the street to get to the Baylands," Lauing said. "I think it's going to be a great improvement."

The project involves demolishing the 1968 building that once housed Ming's, the city's largest Chinese restaurant. It will also involve removing 11 trees, one of which is considered "protected" under the city's recently updated regulations. Swickard also plans to plant 20 new trees to offset the loss.

In a letter to the city, Iversen posited that the dealership will "further the desirability of investment by replacing a dilapidated restaurant building with a modern, environmentally sensitive automobile dealership."

"This will provide further consistency with the surrounding uses as it will continue the row of automobile dealerships to the east of the site while raising the bar for environmentally sensitive design," the letter states. "By developing such a facility, Swickard Auto Group hopes to further stimulate the area for future investment and redevelopment."

Gennady Sheyner
 
Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

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Planned auto dealership gives bicyclists reason to cheer

Mercedes-Benz project at former Ming's Restaurant site includes bike path to the Baylands

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Dec 1, 2022, 12:23 pm

Bicyclists rarely get excited about new car dealerships, but the one currently proposed for the former site of Ming's Restaurant would come with a rare and valuable amenity: a new bike path to the Baylands.

The application from Swickard Auto Group, which the City Council is set to review on Dec. 5, feels in some ways like déjà vu. The city had reviewed a Mercedes-Benz dealership proposal for the same site in 2016 and recommended a host of changes, including significant downsizing. The property owner instead sold the site and the council soon found itself debating another dealership application under the new owner, this time for Mercedes and Audi. After some debate and community opposition from residents who complained that the new dealership was too massive, the council in 2019 approved the proposal from Holman Auto Group.

The project, however, was never built. Instead, the property was sold yet again and last year Swickard submitted another application, which differs from the prior two in significant ways. At 31,195 square feet, it's about half the size of the original Mercedes proposal and significantly smaller than the one from Mercedes/Audi, which would have been about 54,000 square feet.

The buildings would be limited to one- and two-story sections, lower than the prior proposals, and the cars would be parked on outdoor surface lots and not indoors, like in the prior proposals.

"We're approximately half the size and, what we really believe, half the impact of the earlier applications," Eric Iversen, director of real estate and facilities at Swickard, told the Planning and Transportation Commission during its Oct. 26 review.

But for city officials and local bicyclists, the biggest draw is the bike path, which was also a feature of a prior dealership proposal. It would be 10 feet wide run and it would run along Embarcadero and East Bayshore roads, creating easy access to the Baylands preserve. Art Liberman, vice chair of the Palo Alto Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said at a recent hearing on the project that the trail would also help close the gap at the Palo Alto section of the regional trail network known as the Bay Trail.

"Cyclists riding in Palo Alto on the multiuse path along East Bayshore who want to continue on the Bay Trail now must detour to Faber Place and then cross Embarcadero in mid-block," Liberman said at the Oct. 26 hearing in front of the planning commission. "This, I can tell you, is a risky proposition."

Both the commission and the Architectural Review Board have already signed off on the project, with each panel signaling strong support for the new bike path. The path, they noted, offers an alternative for Swickard to comply with the city's policy of requiring transportation demand management programs that reduce car traffic by 15%. The auto dealership, because of its very nature, will never be able to meet that policy, said Sylvia Star-Lack, the city's transportation manager.

"The bike path is a fantastic option for this applicant to put forward in lieu of meeting a policy," she said at the commission's Oct. 26 review. "This bike path is not here just because we want to have a bike path. It's here also to provide a way for this applicant to get a little closer to meeting the TDM policy that unfortunately, because it's an auto-oriented dealership, they will not be able to meet."

Commission Chair Ed Lauing, who will join the council next year, called the path "absolutely essential."

"It really fixes a bigger problem that we have there, of people just walking on the street to get to the Baylands," Lauing said. "I think it's going to be a great improvement."

The project involves demolishing the 1968 building that once housed Ming's, the city's largest Chinese restaurant. It will also involve removing 11 trees, one of which is considered "protected" under the city's recently updated regulations. Swickard also plans to plant 20 new trees to offset the loss.

In a letter to the city, Iversen posited that the dealership will "further the desirability of investment by replacing a dilapidated restaurant building with a modern, environmentally sensitive automobile dealership."

"This will provide further consistency with the surrounding uses as it will continue the row of automobile dealerships to the east of the site while raising the bar for environmentally sensitive design," the letter states. "By developing such a facility, Swickard Auto Group hopes to further stimulate the area for future investment and redevelopment."

Comments

MyFeelz
Registered user
JLS Middle School
on Dec 1, 2022 at 12:46 pm
MyFeelz, JLS Middle School
Registered user
on Dec 1, 2022 at 12:46 pm

I demand the restoration of Ming's and the menu, especially Ming's Beef, which I can still taste whenever I think of it. But sure, yeah, we need more bike paths. And rah for another car dealership; nothing says "I'm rich" like someone driving a car with an infotainment center named "MBUX". Precious few electric car choices in the Mercedes line, but then the average rich person can afford gas at any price. I thought PA is trying to be carbon neutral? Doesn't make sense to allow a developer to build a dealership selling mainly fossil fuel driven cars. Hypocrisy at its finest.

"Absolutely essential".


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 1, 2022 at 9:40 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Dec 1, 2022 at 9:40 pm

I second the above post! i watched with horror and disgust as our city "leaders" rejected each and every single plan Ming;s submitted to convert PART of their restaurant into a hotel to support their wedding and special events activities.

After a long, long frustrating saga, Ming's finally gave up trying to change the city's minds and held a few weeks of farewell meals. Did a single city official or planner show up? Of curse not == a point that was made loud and clear in the farewell speeches.

How many years did we watch the grass grow through the cracks in the empty Ming's lot?
Did the city care that Ming's could have stayed in business for all these years, generating consistent sales tax revenues?

Now of course we've watched OTHER places get approved for NEW UPSCALE hotels, evicting their a few hundred former residents (Casa Olga bow Hotel Nobu, The President Hotel now Graduate Whateve). Now we're piously told WE need to pay revitalize downtown, we need pay to bring residents to downtown, we need to pay for affordable housing!

We can all list our other favorite RESIDENT-SERVING businesses that the city destroyed.

The only entity cheering is the CITY with its insatiable maw for more tax dollars to add to its $40,000,000 surplus!

The rest of us are traveling elsewhere to get our famous widely copied Ming's Beef abd Ming's Chicken Salad which we purchase way more often than webuy Nercedes!


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 2, 2022 at 7:32 am
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 7:32 am

Bike paths are always welcome and the Ming's property should be repurposed for something other than a parking area for the nearby dealerships. But calling the addition of the path "absolutely essential" and describing the current route to the Baylands a "risky proposition" for cyclists is a bit dramatic. I bike and walk the area frequently. There are existing bike paths, including the one that runs into Faber Place, a cul-de-sac with very little automobile activity. It is often amusing to read what Palo Alto considers absolutely essential!


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2022 at 7:39 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 7:39 am

I agree with all 3 previous posts. I think the way Mings was treated was unfair and uncivil, like the Palo Alto Bowl and various other things around town.

I was about to word something like Annette's post. Our values are not the same as the City is imposing on us.


Samuel L.
Registered user
Meadow Park
on Dec 2, 2022 at 7:42 am
Samuel L., Meadow Park
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 7:42 am

"It really fixes a bigger problem that we have there, of people just walking on the street to get to the Baylands," Lauing said.

Is that really a problem? There are sidewalks and trails along both Embarcadero and E Bayshore leading the the trails at the Baylands. Anyone walking on the street is doing so voluntarily, not out of necessity.

If that is considered a big problem, maybe they should revisit the train crossing issue. Pretty soon people will be walking across the train tracks...


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2022 at 11:34 am
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 11:34 am

It will provide a better opportunity for an improved (and more direct) bike/pedestrian connection to Geng Road and Embarcadero, eliminating conflicts between people who currently bike and walk on the same narrow sidewalk space (because the inadequacy of bike facilities at that location today forces many bicyclists who are uncomfortable taking a lane at this busy intersection onto the sidewalk).

Thank you, Swickard Auto, for including this new facility in your planning process. It sets the stage well for improved bike/pedestrian connectivity to and through this intersection.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 2, 2022 at 11:46 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 11:46 am

""It really fixes a bigger problem that we have there, of people just walking on the street to get to the Baylands," Lauing said."
"

Heavens!! People just walking on the street! Obviously we need to staff up a whole new department to teach safe mindful walking. Maybe the city's $3,000,000 can start adding a section on safe street walking to the recipes in the City Manager's weekly UpLift newsletter.


KOhlson
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Dec 2, 2022 at 12:02 pm
KOhlson, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 12:02 pm

Regarding the bike path, I don't see what the big deal is. I ride a few hours per week for exercise, and this area is one of my routes. The worst part, obviously, is the intersection of Embarcadero and W Bayshore. Only a fool would knowingly ride there. The bike/pedestrian bridge is a 100 yards or so to the south, and a dogleg to a path (hypotenuse) takes you through the Baylands to Faber Pl, past the Honda dealer. There is a nice, wide bike lane from there to the bay.

I am in favor of a car dealership there. Sales tax is a great source of city revenue.


Green Gables
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 2, 2022 at 12:27 pm
Green Gables, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 12:27 pm

The food at Ming's was some times okay and some times good, however, when the PA Women's Republican Club Federated met there, the food was really good.

The original owner had consistently good food even if he was nasty to his first wife.


resident3
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2022 at 12:53 pm
resident3, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 12:53 pm

@online name,

“Maybe the city's $3,000,000 can start adding a section on safe street walking to the recipes in the City Manager's weekly UpLift newsletter.”

In cities where you have transportation options, there’s comprehensive Pedestrian and driver safety guides in neat fold out formats or online that also show rail and bus. The City’s pages have separate ones for bikes and “walk and roll” maps, I don’t see a pedestrian friendly map or that has tips on staying safe.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 2, 2022 at 1:24 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 1:24 pm

@Resident3, sorry. I should have said "“Maybe the city manager's $3,000,000 Communication staff can start adding a section on safe street walking to the recipes in the City Manager's weekly UpLift newsletter.”

I was being sarcastic about the city funding pedestrian safety -- aka walking -- education and communication outreach and a big department to administer same although since this is PA, I can see how you could see it as a real suggestion.


We Are The People
Registered user
Menlo Park
on Dec 2, 2022 at 2:20 pm
We Are The People, Menlo Park
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 2:20 pm

It appears that MONEY TALKS AND the BS WALKS. Its not what you know, its WHO you know. Ming's food was good. I remember the "Wor Wonton Soup". There was also a "Scotts Seafood" across the street. But realistically thinking. WHY is it that a Luxury Car Dealership among other Car Shops have been approved? Its the same reason that the Airport is still there, and NOT meant for all to use. Corporate clout. In realization, the discussion should be addressing Our Traffic situation. Talk should be about a thorough fare exiting from the Dumbarton Bridge, towards Hwy 101. Traffic abatement, is more sound than for a few Customers to relish in Buying another Car to ADD to our pollution. In fact we can have both, all the above usages. This can include a "Bike Path along the Exit with an exit, for other tax revenue amenities. Liken to what San Francisco has done, along their points of interest. A scenic viewing area etc.
If your Only concerns are the "Tax" Dollars. An Over Head ramp continuing down Embarcadero, and over the Old Ming's Site. Could be made functional. This would also provide marketing exposure towards potential customers. The most important present concern is, we are in need of "Traffic Relief". Not another LONE Car dealership, which can only be used by a few.


Eric Fontaine
Registered user
another community
on Dec 2, 2022 at 2:36 pm
Eric Fontaine, another community
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 2:36 pm

The original Ming's on ECR in Barron Park was better than the 'new' Ming's on Embarcadero Road.

Su Hong (Menlo Park), Ming's (Palo Alto), and Tao Tao Cafe (Sunnyvale) were always the 'go-to' classic Cantonese-style Chinese restaurants on the midpeninsula.

Today it is mostly Mandarin, Hunan, and Szhuan style restaurants.




Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 2, 2022 at 4:28 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 4:28 pm

Tao Tao is still there and Yum Cha's in Menlo Park makes a good version of Ming's Chinese Chicken Salad.

The "new" Ming's on Embarcadero was perfect for meeting friends and business associates who were unfamiliar with the area and/or didn't want to waste all the time searching for parking downtown.

"Its not what you know, its WHO you know."

Absolutely and shamefully so. WHY couldn't the city accommodate one of our oldest businesses re its request to convert part of its restaurant into a hotel while pushing for the opening of all the other hotels?

Why did the city hassle the owner of Palermo's on University so much it finallly closed? They denied it access to city parking lot while reserving the lots for others like Zibbibbo's (no also gone) AND even getting on their case -- and only their case -- about trucks making deliveries to its BACK entrance?? (I miss their mussels in mustard cream sauce; if anyone knows where there's a credible version, please advise.)

And some of wonder why our downtown restaurants and retailers aren't helping to vitalize PA's downtown like they are in Los Alto. Menlo Park and Redwood City! I doubt they need a big bucks "retail consultant" computing desirable osquare footage of retail/restaurant space like PA when one their merchants can 12 bands to play downtown FOR FREE each month!

Compare and contract!






James Kawamoto
Registered user
Downtown North
on Dec 2, 2022 at 4:59 pm
James Kawamoto, Downtown North
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 4:59 pm

Ming's was also a popular post-wedding luncheon/dinner venue for countless Japanese-American families.

Next to traditional Japanese food, Chinese (Cantonese) food is highly favored amongst the older Japanese (1st/2nd) generations and they are very picky when it comes to discerning good Chinese food.

Ming's was right up there.




Neighbor
Registered user
South of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2022 at 5:01 pm
Neighbor, South of Midtown
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 5:01 pm

Why did the city prioritize a car dealership over other businesses in that spot? Why was Mong’s proposal rejected? It makes no sense - does Palo Alto need a Mercedes dealership?


Neighbor
Registered user
South of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2022 at 5:03 pm
Neighbor, South of Midtown
Registered user
on Dec 2, 2022 at 5:03 pm

Why did the city prioritize a car dealership over other businesses in that spot? Why was Ming’s proposal rejected? It makes no sense - does Palo Alto need a Mercedes dealership?


Jerry
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 5, 2022 at 7:43 pm
Jerry, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Dec 5, 2022 at 7:43 pm

I must be missing something but I don't remember the Ming's site being included in the Draft Housing Element Plan recently submitted. Affordable housing anyone? I guess a Mercedes dealership is more important? Zoning laws maybe? Tax revenue?

Oh, I know what I'm missing. I miss Ming's...


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 6, 2022 at 1:20 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Dec 6, 2022 at 1:20 am

Jerry, funny about that omission, huh. Someone long ago decided it was going to be an auto dealer and no one bothered to revisit it after they destroyed Ming's and they continue to ignore our present realities.

Missing Ming's and now worried about missing Indo, too, if the City Council approves the latest proposal to rezone the site commercial for a 5-story apartment building with 24 studios, 20 1 bedroom apartments and 22 parking spaces.

It's pathetically under-parked at a time when the Bay Area transit arms are predicting doomsday budget shortfalls and service cutbacks. Web Link


staying home
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Dec 7, 2022 at 10:55 am
staying home, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Dec 7, 2022 at 10:55 am

I'm all for expanding bike routes, but all that is needed here is some improved signage and road paint (green lane?). Given the cost per square foot of land in this area, the dealership is not offering to support the bike path out of the goodness of their heart. It is an obvious accommodation to justify their expansion, a pandering to the City Council to help justify the demolition of the old Mings.

Funny, we have a cap on the allowable size of grocery stores but not for car dealerships. This location would be great for some new housing: freeway access, near Edgewood shopping center, parks/open space.


Annette
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 7, 2022 at 12:10 pm
Annette, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 7, 2022 at 12:10 pm

I watched CC on Monday and I understand why CC voted as they did. The person who presented on behalf of the applicant did not leave the impression of being a slick guy trying to do a land grab. The building takes environmental factors into consideration; seems okay to me.


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