The new Neiman Marcus proposal has received a thumbs up from Walnut Creek Senior Planner Steven Buckley.
In his staff report in advance of the Planning Commission meeting Thursday, Buckley says the should give a nod to the Neiman Marcus proposal, which would involve building a two-story, 96,000-square-foot Neiman Marcus in Broadway Plaza. The luxury retail department store would go up at the highly visible corner of South Main Street and Mt. Diablo Boulevard, across the street from Tiffany & Co. and Neiman Marcus.
(This vote of confidence should please the 58 percent of readers of the DUBC who participated in that WC-based blogger's Neiman Marcus poll. Eighty-one of these voters said “yes” to Neiman Marcus coming to town, while 66 (or 45 percent) said “no.” Granted, I don't believe the poll is scientific, but it offers some indication that a fair number of people living in and around Walnut Creek don’t mind this development.)
Buckley says the Planning Commission should also give its okay to the revised parking plan proposed by Macerich, the owner of Broadway Plaza.
To put it mildly, the original Neiman Marcus proposal didn't go over very well. There was the size: 107,000 square feet. There was the height, which would have required an amendment to the city's general plan: 50 feet and three stories tall. Most of all, there was the proposed parking plan, which the City Council inexplicably approved. It would have relieved Macerich of needing to add any new parking for its new store. Not imposing such parking requirements on Neiman Marcus didn’t strike many as fair, since other newly built businesses are required by city law to provide additional parking.
The city, so anxious to bring Neiman Marcus to town, went along with the idea of letting Macerich address the store’s additional burden on downtown parking by saying okay to a scheme to turn the five-story Broadway Plaza garage into a valet parking facility on weekends and during busy holiday shopping times.
Not surprisingly, the idea was so laughable that an unidentified entity, later revealed to be a competing mall developer, had no problem gaining enough signatures to put the Neiman Marcus proposal up for a costly and inconvenient city vote.
Macerich, also facing a lawsuit that would halt the project, agreed to go back to the drawing board, downsize the project, and come up with a new parking plan.
Under the new parking plan, Macerich will provide “at least 175 additional parking spaces.” The spaces will be dedicated to employees; up to 150 of these spaces will be accommodated by a mechanical auto lift system from the first floor that allows “vertical stacking” of vehicles.
Another 45 spaces will be provided by attendant parking on the top floor of the plaza’s five-story garage; but those top floor spaces will be given over to customers on busy weekends, with those 45 employee spaces to be offered on weekends at an off-site.
In his report, Buckley says that Neiman Marcus would be a good addition to this corner particular corner of downtown, even if it means increasing the development intensity on that site, because “it would become more continuous along Main Street where storefronts predominate. … A new two-story building would enclose the street and provide a pedestrian environment that would link the traditional downtown (north of Mt. Diablo Boulevard) and the shopping district at Broadway Plaza.”
Buckley noted the three community meetings had been held by the city and Macerich to get community input on the revised proposal. According to Buckley, the comments received “do not indicate any unusual concerns or constraints for the project.”
That’s not what some Crazy in Suburbia readers indicated in earlier comments on this blog's message boards. One, commenting on March 7, said “I can tell you that their ‘listening’ programs are just a dog and pony show from the public relations staff in city hall.
Another reader, posting on March 14, said the March 12 Planning Commission “provided more evidence that it’s ‘business as usual’ when it comes to rubber-stamping’ the Neiman Marcus proposal. The commissioners heaped praise on Macerich for all their public outreach, even though the Macerich representative couldn't cite a single refinement to their plan that had been made in response to the public input they received at their recent outreach meetings. And an explanation of why the proposed parking plan (employee-only lifts and designated employee-only parking on level 5) even makes sense has yet to be presented.”
Well, my crystal ball tells me that the Planning Commission will accept Buckley's findings and recommend that the City Council approve the project.