WALNUT CREEK -- A center that boasts a new Safeway, plus some housing, could be the first step in transforming a struggling business park.
After nearly two years of planning, and more still to go, a detailed first look at what Safeway plans for its 25-acre property at the entrance to the Shadelands Business Park on the corner of Ygnacio Valley and Oak Grove Roads is now available. Some neighbors support the new 219,000-square-foot retail development called The Orchards. Others have major concerns about traffic and a loss of open space. Safeway hopes to begin construction by the end of 2014.
But no matter where residents fall on the issue, the idea of a Safeway with space for restaurants, retail, parks and senior housing on the nearly vacant corner is a shift for the traditional business park. Facing a 20 percent vacancy rate, and projections of as high as 40 percent in the coming years, city leaders have been concerned about the viability of the 240-acre 1960s-era business park.
"If the Shadelands Business Park (vacancy) ... goes up to 40 percent and higher it is on a downward spiral that is (real) blight," Mayor Cindy Silva said on Tuesday.
The preliminary plan calls for not only a 55,000-square-foot grocery store -- double the size of the Safeway store across the street -- but a splash pad for kids, parks, winding paths, a fitness club and, for the first time in the business park, housing.
There could be as many as 200 senior apartments on 3.9 acres. That idea came from an advisory committee charged with creating a specific plan for the site. That group was abruptly disbanded last year, having only come up with planning principles.
At a City Council meeting Tuesday, city leaders and neighbors weighed in on the plan. Concerns ranged from preserving heritage trees on the land to the most often cited worry -- traffic. In an area already heavily congested, adding more vehicles will be disastrous, some neighbors say.
A traffic analysis done for the advisory group last year estimated an office building alone would add 6,000 daily trips, and new store and retail daily trips could bring as many as 24,000, said Bill Ogdon, a resident.
"That is 300 to 400 percent more daily trips; this is very extreme," he said.
The exact impacts won't be known until a full traffic study is done for the project, said Deb Karbo, director of development at Safeway's realty company, Property Development Centers. An environmental impact report, due out this year, will look at all the impacts and potential mitigations.
Other neighbors seem to be clamoring for the new store.
"Our neighborhoods desperately need a larger store that can fill our needs in our neighborhood," said resident Kassie Wenzell.
Others worry about the new shopping center's impact on the neighboring Encina Grande and Citrus Circle retail areas. Some residents say the area is already saturated with businesses.
Karbo said Tuesday there are few places over 10,000 square feet available in Walnut Creek, a desirable market. And Encina Grande has already started a plan to renovate its center.
Before the Safeway project is ready for final approvals, a specific plan outlining uses allowed on the land must be approved. For more information go to www.SafewayatOrchards.com.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.