WALNUT CREEK -- The committee that was supposed to help shape the future for 25 acres owned by Safeway in the Shadelands Business Park is no more.
City leaders announced on Monday, at what would be the last meeting of the Shadelands Gateway Specific Plan Advisory Committee, that the 11-member group was finished and its job was done.
That declaration caught committee members, including Ed Wohlers, by surprise.
"This was not the public-driven process we were told it would be," a dismayed Wohlers said.
The advisory committee never came up with specific recommendations or a draft plan of what should be allowed to be built on the corner of Oak Grove and Ygnacio Valley roads owned by the grocery giant.
But the process is far from over. The city, working with a consultant, will use "planning principles" the committee creates to help draft a specific plan. Safeway will eventually submit a store project plan, likely by early next year.
Safeway wants to build a 55,000-square-foot store with a pharmacy and other developments -- perhaps restaurants, stores and a park -- at that location. Safeway now has offices on half of the Oak Grove/Ygnacio Valley site; the rest is an open field.
The company asked the City Council last year about changing the parcel's zoning from commercial to retail and agreed to foot the bill -- estimated at $600,000 -- for an advisory committee process to devise a specific plan.
The writing may have been on the wall for this committee after an August meeting where residents voiced concerns about everything from traffic to blight. Some said they wanted no more development on the Safeway land.
The process was falling behind; the committee was originally supposed to have a plan this summer. City staff eventually recommended consensus on the planning principles, said Ethan Bindernagel, Walnut Creek senior planner.
"The committee's role was not to determine whether or not this should move forward -- the advisory committee was never empowered to make that kind of call," he said. "It was a careful balancing act."
Steve Elster, a resident of the nearby Woodlands neighborhood, said it makes no sense for the advisory committee to devise planning principles only for them to be applied to a plan on which they couldn't comment. And neither the public nor some members of the committee were finished with the process.
"If something is presented to the city council with a suggestion that this is the proposal that came out of this committee, that is wrong," he said.
There also are unanswered questions, he said, such as how the nearby shopping centers would be affected by another grocery-anchored center.
Elster contends the community push-back against the development caused city leaders to stop the process early.
Councilman Kish Rajan, who co-chaired the committee, disagrees. They did not want to create a specific plan that wasn't adequately acknowledging input from the committee and community, he said.
"Because of the depth of the feedback, we determined, the best way to be responsive in a really thorough and thoughtful way -- rather than creating a specific plan -- was to capture the feedback and guiding principles," Rajan said. "The truth is (the public) has shaped and set the stage for anything that will happen from here."
That may be little consolation to members of the committee caught off guard by its dissolution. Wohlers, now disenchanted with the whole process, said the planning principles are too broad; one states that whatever is developed should be an overall improvement at the intersection of Oak Grove and Ygnacio Valley Road.
Still, Safeway will prepare a plan that both "embodies the planning principles developed" by the committee and input officials heard at the past 10 months of meetings, said Wendy Gutshall, manager of public and government affairs for Safeway.
Also, any Safeway proposal must still be vetted though many city commissions and finally the City Council.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.