WALNUT CREEK -- A plan that would allow retail and residential in the Shadelands Business Park is moving along slowly, paving the way for a likely Safeway development that a vocal group of neighbors still can't get behind.
At a city council meeting Tuesday, the council went through -- in painstaking detail -- a draft of the Shadelands Gateway Specific Plan, which lays out what types of uses will be allowed on a 25-acre site at the corner of Ygnacio Valley and Oak Grove roads. The Safeway-owned property is currently half open space and the rest office buildings.
The draft plan allows for open space and 225,000 square feet of retail and "flex space," which could be housing or offices. The plan splits the property into two districts; the "Shadelands District" extends from Shadelands Drive south to the middle of the Safeway property and is the "transition area" where housing, a health club and offices would be allowed. The "Gateway District" would extend to Ygnacio Valley Road, and would be where grocery, restaurants and retail would be allowed in an effort to add amenities for the struggling business park, according to an agenda report.
Many residents, mainly from the Woodlands area, spoke Tuesday, citing concerns ranging from traffic to economic blight. But council members reiterated that a draft environmental report will examine all potential problems.
"The environmental review should bear out what the impacts on the neighborhoods are, and 'neighborhoods' meaning residential neighbors and commercial centers," said Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson.
That draft environmental report should be out in the fall.
Safeway's plans call for a 219,000-square-foot retail development dubbed The Orchards. It would be anchored by the grocery store and would include restaurants, other retail, a health club and a 200-unit senior housing center.
The site plan has changed dramatically since April, after neighbor and council comments. The new plan shows a more contiguous park, dedicated access turn-ins and turnouts to help mitigate traffic issues, and an attempt to "hide" parking so most of it is on the roof of the Safeway and adjacent retail shops.
"No one wants to see a 1970s strip mall here," said Deb Karbo, director of development at Safeway's development company, Property Development Centers.
The draft specific plan would allow all the uses outlined in Safeway's site plan, but some council members and residents saw problems.
Councilman Bob Simmons said the senior housing is more of a business because it would offer senior care, requiring employee parking. In the area where senior housing is allowed and proposed, he would rather see a winery.
"Not sure housing belongs in the Shadelands Businesses Park at all," Simmons said. Other council members said Walnut Creek needs the senior housing.
Lawson wants to see a children's museum, but the point of the specific plan is to be somewhat flexible. The developers later propose what they want, and the council decides.
"We are doing ourselves a little bit of a disservice by being so specific in the specific plan," Lawson said.
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns for residents is how the shopping center would affect neighboring Encina Grande and Citrus Circle grocery-anchored centers. A peer review issued by the city on an economic study done for the project called into question whether there's a market for so many stores in the area. Some residents said the city shouldn't allow overbuilding of shopping centers.
Other residents voiced concerns over how the health club, if it has a pool, would affect patronage at the Woodlands Cabana Club.
But predominately neighbors are worry about traffic, especially on Oak Grove Road. Deanna Constable, Woodlands resident, said she is against a right-in and right-out turn from the development onto Oak Grove Road.
"That is a dangerous plan to have," she said.
Most residents who spoke Tuesday would seem to prefer the area stay as is. But even if Safeway doesn't move forward with a retail center, the land is designated for more office buildings, not open space.
This process has been a bit of departure from how applications for major developments are usually done in Walnut Creek. City leaders opted for a specific plan to detail what uses could be on a site owned by a single developer who is ready to develop. The city created a citizens advisory committee but it was disbanded before it came up with a draft plan and the city proceeded with planning principals from that group.
Ed Wohlers, who was on the citizen's committee, said he has a problem with the process because the specific plan and the development plan are occurring at the same time, and that it seems like the plan is trying to fit the Safeway's development.
"It seems to me like (city) staff is having a hand in this development, in leading it," he said.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.