I confess that I so much don’t like the many tortured remodels and the new “Eichleresque” developments in Palo Alto that I really hope the Edgewood Plaza will bring the beauty back in town for their residents, visitors, new and next generations.

‘Save Eichler buildings,’ residents demand
Late 1950s shopping center must serve neighborhood-retail needs, residents argue
by Arden Pennell

For Palo Alto resident Bob Moss, the case of Edgewood Plaza is simple: Tell any developer to scram who plans to replace historic Eichler retail space with new housing.

“When a developer comes in and asks to do something really irrational, tell them to get lost,” Moss advised Palo Alto’s Planning and Transportation Commission Wednesday night.

The half-century-old plaza needs retail for nearby residents more than it needs new residents, he asserted.

Moss spoke at a “scoping session,” part of a standard review process for new construction, intended to corral concerns that should be included in a draft study of the project’s potential environmental impacts.

Edgewood Plaza was designed by modernist architect A. Quincy Jones for Joseph Eichler in the late 1950s and built as part of a subdivision of Eichler homes. The plaza is near U.S. Highway 101 along Embarcadero Road.

The center now appears rundown, after a string of failed redevelopment attempts in the last decade. Sand Hill Property Company is proposing erecting 24 two-story homes and new retail for a total of 29,000 square feet of retail. Only one historic Eichler retail building would be retained, according to a city report — causing residents such as Moss Wednesday to call on officials to retain the mid-century developer’s work.

Resident Lenore Cymes called the site a gem of post-war cultural heritage.

“People around the world really look to this,” she said.

She suggested turning the Eichler area into a place where visitors stopping off the freeway could grab a bite to eat and tour around.

“The visitors’ center to Palm Springs is a ’50s gas station. We could do the same and better,” Cymes said.

And if developers tear the old buildings down, it’s gone.

“It would be a pity to lose it. It can’t come back,” she warned.

Some neighbors are concerned enough about preserving Eichler heritage to sue the developer.

Homeowners whose properties were developed simultaneously with the retail area have deeds allowing them to regulate building in the subdivision. Several claim that replacing some of the historic Eichler buildings with homes violates original deed restrictions.

At the scoping session, other concerns raised about the proposed redevelopment included offering enough retail to create a community shopping center, the impact of more children in the city’s already overflowing schools, the site’s possible contact with toxic materials from the adjacent gas station, and noise and pollution from the nearby freeway.

Commissioners expressed hope Edgewood would be a walkable, pedestrian-oriented center for the city. Creating such zones is an overarching goal in the city’s comprehensive plan, Chair Daniel Garber and Commissioner Paula Sandas pointed out.

Commissioner Arthur Keller encouraged the city to look at how much of a “critical mass” of retail would be needed to build a true neighborhood center.

Commissioners asked that the environmental analysis also consider the positive impacts of a center, which could reduce driving and traffic trips to shopping areas farther away.

Meanwhile, Sand Hill Property announced last week that a grocery store, Fresh & Easy Grocer, has signed on for the future complex.

The no-vote scoping session was the first step to examining the project’s environmental impacts. The public can submit comments and concerns to Jennifer.Cutler@cityofpaloalto.org.