HERCULES -- A community meeting Tuesday with the developer of a 6.6-acre, central Hercules tract morphed into a discussion of suburban vs. pedestrian-friendly development.
John McNellis of Palo Alto-based McNellis Partners presented a tentative plan for a single-story, retail-only complex with a large drugstore and seven smaller stores; a first phase could consist of a Walgreens or CVS store and a Chick-fil-A restaurant, and perhaps Peet's Coffee.
The McNellis group acquired the site, near the westbound Interstate 80 on-ramp, from a New Jersey-based loan company last year. It had served as a temporary food court dubbed Market Hall, and was supposed to become Phase I of a mixed-use development, Hercules New Town Center.
Before Tuesday's 7 p.m. meeting, McNellis had stopped off at Starbucks in a small shopping center across the street, and observed that the parking lot was full even though three storefronts there are vacant. He used the anecdote to illustrate why the drugstore needs ample parking in a strapped space that he likened to jamming a size 12 foot into a size 11½ shoe.
"This is a suburban town," McNellis said. "We're going to need that parking."
Resident Phil Simmons said he found the characterization disturbing.
"The intent Hercules has had for over a decade is not to be a suburban town," Simmons said.
Semik Oungoulian, the owner of a senior apartment building on the other side of Interstate 80, urged McNellis to come up with something closer to the Phase I New Town Center concept of about 300,000 square feet of commercial and retail space combined with multistory residential buildings.
Responded McNellis, "I would love to put 300,000 square feet here, but it would remain empty and I would go broke."
One wild card is a 11.4-acre property cater-cornered from Market Hall dubbed Sycamore Crossing, where Safeway wants to build a grocery store and gas station as part of a larger retail complex.
Should Safeway abandon its plan, Market Hall would be an ideal alternative site for a grocery and gas station, McNellis said, adding he is leery to commit too far to anything at Market Hall before it becomes clear what happens at Sycamore Crossing.
In the audience Tuesday was BART board member Zakhary Mallet, who advocates extending BART north from El Cerrito Del Norte to San Pablo, Richmond Hilltop, Pinole and perhaps Hercules and beyond. Mallet said if Hercules wants a BART station, certain residential density standards would have to be met to secure funding.
He characterized McNellis' plans as "current-day planning," adding that bringing BART north would require "future planning."