The City Council Tuesday voted unanimously to move forward with a specific plan process to explore Safeway's plans to develop part of a 25-acre parcel in the corner of the Shadelands Business Park along Oak Grove Road.
"It's a tremendous opportunity," said Council member Kish Rajan. "This would be transformative."
Mayor Cindy Silva said, "This is an opportunity to do what Walnut Creek does best — engage the community and make creative choices." She thanked city staff for coming up with creative solutions and Safeway for being open to the specific plan process, which might last two years.
City Planning Manager Virginia Walker said the specific plan is "a community-driven rather than a developer-driven process" to "look at a number of futures for this site." In this process, the council would select a steering committee with representatives of neighbors, the council and the applicant.
The applicant (Safeway) would bear the costs of the specific plan process, potentially including consultants to look at traffic, engineering, land use and economic analysis, said Walker.
City staff is to develop a specific plan proposal for the next council meeting, which is Sept. 20.
Deb Karbo, director of development for Property Development Centers, a wholly owned subsidiary of Safeway, addressed the council and answered questions. She said the current Safeway store in the area, across Ygnacio Valley Road in the Encina Grande Shopping Center, is "squeezed" at 23,532 square feet. That store was built in 1965.
In the Shadelands property, Safeway would look to build a store twice as big or more, "a state-of-the-art lifestyle grocery store." It could have an organic product department, bakery, deli, Starbucks and pharmacy, Karbo said.
For the rest of the 25-acre property, Karbo said Safeway would anticipate a mixed-use project, working with local groups to "reflect the highest and best use for the area." She added, "We agree with the specific plan and collaborative community approach."
Safeway's property there now includes two office buildings that have an occupancy rate of 40 percent. The buildings are "functionally obsolete," she said, in "a weak office market with high vacancy rates," suffering a lack of major highways and direct public transit in the area.
Four residents spoke of reservations about a new, bigger Safeway in the area.
Jan Green, who lives off Via Monte, said she was very concerned about traffic. It's precarious now, without further development, for children crossing Ygnacio Valley Road, she said.
"Trucks come down from Concord and they blow their horns when they know they will have trouble stopping at that intersection (Ygnacio Valley and Oak Grove)," she said.
Lesley Hunt suggested an alternative — have someone write a request for proposals for this parcel: "Let's see if someone can invent a new kind of urban land use."
Hunt was concerned about the threat to mature valley oaks on the site. "There's one green corner left (at the intersection)," she said. "I personally like that green corner."
Karbo said Safeway has surveyed the trees in the parcel, including valley oaks, and "we understand we need to preserve as many of those trees as possible."
Ed Wohlers of the Woodlands Association urged a thorough study of the effects on traffic, noise, wildlife, air quality, trees and the surrounding shopping centers. The association includes 900 homes across Oak Grove Road from the site.
"It's important to have a high degree of public participation," Wohlers said.
The residents spoke at a public hearing on a "pre-application" by Safeway to consider a change of zoning from Business Park to General Retail in that section of the Shadelands Business Park.