Developers of a project complete with housing, a specialty grocery store and a restaurant are aiming to not just redevelop Saranap, but to transform the area.

Developer Mark Hall, behind recent local projects such as the Sprouts Farmers Market on Geary Road in Walnut Creek and the Chick-fil-A/24-Hour Fitness project on North Main Street in the same city, has a new vision for Boulevard Way in Saranap, a hamlet of unincorporated Walnut Creek.

Hall will soon propose a 325-unit housing development, which will include retail, in unincorporated Contra Costa County just south of Highway 24 between Lafayette and Walnut Creek.

Hall calls the area a "retail ghost town" because where there once was a gas station, a market and a restaurant now sit vacant buildings and few businesses besides a popular deli. The area needs help, Hall said.

"I would not call this neighborhood blighted, in the sense of what you might find in certain areas of Oakland or Richmond, but by Walnut Creek standards, the Boulevard Way corridor is rough," he said. "It has clearly been in a long-term, gradual decline."

His Walnut Creek-based company, Hall Equities Group, has acquired the Sandpiper Apartments and has options to buy several parcels along Saranap Avenue and Boulevard Way, including the former La Rosa Market and the existing Sufism Reoriented church (not the new sanctuary being built down the road).

But it's not just about new shops and apartments. Hall plans some major infrastructure changes as well. He wants to pare down the four-lane Boulevard Way to two lanes, install two roundabouts, move a full-grown oak tree to the center of the road to create a gateway and potentially erect an archway sign over the area that reads "Saranap Village" complete with a yet-to-be-chosen motto.

Doing all of this will attract residents who can afford the higher-priced apartments and condos Hall plans to build. And it brings back "the neighborhood village retail uses that both are a desirable amenity and convenience to area residents," he said.

The estimated $70 million project is in the early stages. Hall plans to formally apply to the county later this year. But some of the timing depends on the religious group behind the nearby new Sufism Reoriented Sanctuary. The group is selling some of the Saranap parcels to Hall to help finance the building of the sanctuary.

Beyond the church, a general plan amendment, along with many other things, are necessary before Hall is given the go-ahead by the county Board of Supervisors.

"It is very difficult to estimate the timeline for the process, since a number of variables come into play during the processing of the application," said Aruna Bhat, deputy director of community development for the county. Since this project would likely require an environmental impact report, Bhat anticipates the process will take at least 24 months.

Hall, however, hopes to start construction by next fall.

The 3-acre project would include four buildings, three of which would include retail, and the housing would be both for rent and for purchase. The tallest of the buildings would be six stories.

The retail aspect of the project could bring some significant foot traffic to the area with a 4,500 square-foot building likely split between a cafe, salon and a dry cleaner, and a 5,500 square-foot restaurant -- think Sunrise Bistro in Walnut Creek, Hall said.

But the biggest addition to the retail scene would be a 14,500-square-foot specialty neighborhood grocery store -- something missing in western Walnut Creek and eastern Lafayette, Hall said.

"We believe that a smaller, more convenient and well-designed specialty market with good street presence and a well laid-out and adequate parking field, will do very well," he said.

Hall expects the development to generate more than $1 million a year in tax revenue.

J. David Dacus, president of the Saranap Community Association, said once the proposal is formally made to the county, his board will likely review it and come out with a position. So far in the neighborhood, Dacus has heard mostly positive things about the idea.

With new sidewalks, crosswalks, street lighting and fewer lanes on Boulevard Way, Dacus can see how the project's improvements could make the area safer -- especially for pedestrians.

"Regardless of what you think of the look of it, it seems like it will be safer for cars and safer for pedestrians," he said. "All of these infrastructure changes require a larger project because the county doesn't have any money to do it themselves."

Hall thinks mixed use will work in this area. It's a necessary part of the project, he said, because Boulevard Way is one of the least-desirable locations to rent in all of Walnut Creek or the surrounding area. "This is a well-known and widely held opinion in the marketplace and made evident by the fact that the very lowest rental rates that exist in the region are found in this neighborhood," he said.

But some in the neighborhood have raised concerns that this was one of the areas where people could afford to live, and now may be priced out, Dacus said.

Already, Hall Equities Group has held community meetings, and the next step is to begin the formal county process, which Hall thinks will start in the next few months.

For any "naysayers" who say this will change the area, Hall agrees there will be change.

"That is the point of the project," he said. "We will not be successful with this project if we don't do exactly that, as the current neighborhood condition is not conducive to successful redevelopment."

For more information and to see the project, go to saranapvillage.com.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.