It remains to be seen if a 55,000-square-foot Safeway store -- anchoring a 219,000-square-foot retail and housing development -- will ever rise from the weed-strewn lot at the northwest corner of Ygnacio Valley and Oak Grove roads in Walnut Creek, but the plodding march from nothing toward something has been fascinating to watch.

Safeway's Property Development Centers first floated this proposal before the City Council 21 months ago with a request to rezone the property it owns in Shadelands Business Park. That was the starting gun for residents' complaints, study sessions and advisory meetings that knocked the wheels of progress out of round.

An 11-member Shadelands Gateway Specific Plan Advisory Committee, made up of residents, business and community leaders, met 10 times over 10 months in hashing out 11 planning principles (but no draft plan) before being thanked for its input and dismissed.

Those principles -- guidelines to address parking, traffic and design concerns -- were entertaining to watch unfold, especially this one: "Create activity nodes that focus on lively pedestrian-friendly environments with synergistic uses that can serve the existing Shadelands Business Park and surrounding neighborhoods."

Linguistic experts are invited to email their translation.


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Safeway officials took it from there, creating a detailed application for development -- "The Orchards at Walnut Creek" -- which was offered up for feedback from the Design Review Commission, the Planning Commission, the Transportation Commission/Bicycle Advisory Committee (Who knew there was one of those?) before being presented Tuesday night to the City Council.

This was not for final approval. Don't be ridiculous. This was merely a study session to elicit more feedback. You can't have enough study sessions.

"Sometimes people get frustrated with how long things take in government," Councilman Bob Simmons conceded, "but if you want something good at the end of the process you actually have to take some time."

Council members prepped for the session by digesting a seven-page agenda report, with four supporting attachments spanning more than 100 pages, including photos, rooftop and ground-level schematics, project descriptions, 33 letters from residents, a citizen survey and a table of regional property tax transfer rates.

Mayor Cindy Silva said she spent the better part of three days studying the information in the packet and making notes. "I spread it across the kitchen counter Sunday evening as I was cooking dinner," she said. "Dinner didn't do so well as a result. It burned as I was underscoring things and moving diagrams around."

And you thought all council members did was show up twice a month for meetings.

Pending revisions -- there have been several already, including a children's playground and a splash-pad -- the project now will continue its daunting climb up the public approval mountain.

Safeway still must present a Specific Plan and arrange for an Environmental Impact Report, both of which will be reviewed by the Design Review Commission and the Planning Commission before it's all bundled up and presented to the City Council for at least one more go-round.

Odds are you'll be celebrating the New Year before anyone celebrates an approval.

In the meantime, enjoy the weeds. They're not going anywhere.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.