June 6, 2009

Plan to replace 1500 Newell with condo/retail complex (so far) receives thumbs up from neighbors, city planners

Walnut Creek city staff and downtown residents have given cautious support to a proposal to tear down the empty eight-story former bank building--otherwise known as 1500 Newell--and the building that currently houses the 7-Eleven store and replace them with a four-story, mixed-use condo and retail complex.

The new 128,575-square-foot complex, called the Village at 1500, would house 49 condo units on the upper three floors. Specifically, 19 of those 49 would be two-bedroom flats and 30 would be two-bedroom town homes. For residents, there would also been an outdoor pool, spa, clubhouse, and lounge.

This is according to a city staff report eing released in advance of Thursday night's Planning Commission meeting. You can view the report here.

According to the project, the developer is Alamo Essex, LLC. I earlier wrote that Alamo Essex is a joint venture that brings together two companies, the Alamo Group and the Essex Property Trust of Palo Alto, a publicly traded real estate investment trust. The Alamo Group has been involved in revitalization several projects in downtown Walnut Creek, including McCovey’s Restaurant, Maria Maria, 1515 Restaurant Lounge, and Bing Crosby’s Restaurant and Piano Lounge.

As for 1500 Newell, the proposal says that 10 percent of the residential units would be set as aside as “affordable” or “inclusionary” housing. Ten percent sounds impressive, but, four to five units. Is that enough?

On the ground floor there would be nearly 28,000-square-feet of retail space, including a 2,000 square-foot-restaurant.

One notable “site improvement” would be a “new pedestrian promenade” along Las Trampas Creek. “It is envisioned that this area will eventually be improved to provide a ‘natural’ walk along the channel, consistent with policies in the General Plan to enhance the creeks and natural resources of the City.”

Another notable feature would be that—unlike certain proposed luxury retail department stores we don’t need to mention—this new development would provide new parking in the form of two stories of underground parking.

For those who pay attention to whether the project complies with the city’s General Plan, the city staff report says it does—for the most part—in that it encourages a mix of commercial and residential uses in the downtown core area. Height-wise, the building rises 50 feet plus “small parapet extensions” and the rooftop stairwell. This height plus those extensions are in compliance with height exceptions for small “architectural embellishments.”

Possible sources of controversy?

--Well, of course, we’ll have to see what design the developers have come up with. Let’s hope it’s attractive.
--City planners are concerned about proposed sidewalk “improvements” along south Main Street, including the placement of planters and benches in the public right-of-way that could reduce the usable sidewalk area. Also, planners want the developer to make more effort to incorporate “green” building materials and features into their design.
--The city arborist has complained about the proposal to remove 11 trees , including several mature, healthy trees, to make way for construction. “The City Arborist does not support the removal of four red oak trees on South Main Street and recommends that every effort be made to preserve these trees.”
--Finally, neighbors from the nearby Parkmead Community Association generally support the project, but are concerned about an increase in traffic. A traffic analysis is currently underway.

With regard to the next step, planners recommend that the Planning Commission receive reports from the staff and developer and give the developer feedback.


Anonymous said...

Oh, don't worry developers. The City Arborist will soon enough 'restate' his concern about the trees, assign them a 'value' of a couple hundred bucks, and write another letter clarifying his initial concern.

Then you can rip 'em out, no worries.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:27, the person needs to justify their job. You won't be a city arborist for long if all the trees are removed in the city!

The developer can discuss the trees with the arborist over lunch. Maybe provide an 'envelope' to the arborist as part of the convincing process.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a great project. I like the ideas of the nature walk near the creek.

I just hope my slurpee source stays... Great thing to get the kids during the jazz concerts.

Speak of that SoccerMom, what's the status of the Broadway Plaza jazz concerts this year. KKSF was a big sponsor and they are no longer a jazz station...Sorry didn't want to change topics.

Anonymous said...

When I first heard of this project I was very excited as it meant the demolition of the ugliest and most inappropriate building in Walnut Creek.

This old bank building is a good example of how important it is to have a strong, but fair, General Plan in place. Not only that, it also shows how important it is to follow the General Plan as closely as possible as buildings can be rather permanent when completed and may never be removed no matter how awful and offensive they are.

Greed in Walnut Creek is not a new concept and this building proves it. When it was proposed there was a huge outcry from the citizenery but of course that incarnation of the wise and greedy city council approved it over the strong objections of their constituents. Just look how many years it has been there, a real eyesore in the downtown area just because the city council could only see $$$$$ in the pot and bent to pressure from prominent developers. A lesson obviously not learned by our current council!

Anonymous said...

Parkmead residents and others need to remain vigilant about the traffic issue since the city has a tendency to negate traffic (and parking) concerns from the public with "traffic studies" showing no impact from a development or they rely on studies by the developer. The garage exit on Newell seems dangerous and will increase traffic on Newell toward S. California Blvd. near busy Trader Joe's.

Anonymous said...

10:08 AM,

You couldn't be more correct about the traffic issues.

Although excited about the demolition of the huge building one can't help but think that increased traffic because of the residents and shoppers at this location, will be another nightmare.

It seems that every new development anywhere in the downtown area skates through the planning process with green lights when it comes to traffic issues. It is simply amazing that city hall somehow always comes to the concusion that new projects NEVER cause more traffic. Recent examples are: the theater complex, Whole Foods and now, of course Neiman Marcus which will have an affect on many streets, Mt. Diablo, Main, Broadway and Newell Avenue.

Knowing that four out of five of the council members live in Ygnacio Valley, increased traffic in the downtown area is obvoiusly not a major issue in their lives. The other member, Ms. Silva, lives in S.W. Walnut Creek and has easy access to freeways to get through town. They are not regularly inconvenienced by sitting on crowed streets so they could care less about the rest of us.

Traffic studies and studies by the city arborist are the easiest problems for a developer to mitigate. Simply declare that dreadful conditions at an intersection can't be mitigated, as is the case with Neiman Marcus on Mt. Diablo and Main. As to trees, just suddenly find that a 100+ year old protected oak is diseased, as in the case of the library parking lot, cut it down and erase all evidence of its existance in less than one day before anyone has a chance to protest.

Amazing how quickly bureaucracy can work when the end results benefit the wants of the decision makers.

Anonymous said...

Will we have additional traffic? If that current 6(?) story building was fully leased to businesses wouldn't that provide as much traffic as what's proposed?

I'm not buying that a council member doesn't care because they don't live in a certain section of town.

DumbAsBricks said...

If we are talking about the ugliest structures in downtown walnut creek, why don't we start with the monstrously ineffective and unattractive parking garage behind the Macy's...ugh.

This building could be retrofitted, but what is the point?

Anonymous said...

2:43 PM -

The eight (8) story building has not been fully leased out in many, many years.

The last tenant to leave was Selix Tuxedos within the past two years and they certainly did not add much to congestion. Before that, over the years many of the offices were being used by Kaiser Hospital so people were parking in the Kaiser lots across the street and on Newell just beyond Broadway for the employees.

With the addition of more shopping downtown on Olympic, Locust and Mt. Diablo and also Whole Foods on Newell, traffic has increased in the southern downtown region quite alot while this building sat virtually empty.

Plans to add extra retail and housing in this area is bound to cause more cars to be on the surrounding streets.

As far as council members not caring......let us just say that traffic congestion that does not affect their lives on a daily basis while out and about is not a number one priority for them. Just review the many thousands of dollars that have been spent over the years improving the traffic light systems, lane striping etc. on Ygnacio Valley Road compared to finding a solution to the gridlock situation on Mt. Diablo Blvd. at both Main and Broadway.

Anonymous said...

Remember the oak tree in the bank parking lot that is now Va de Vi? Residents fought tooth and nail for that tree, it was saved and is now the focal point of the most attractive spot in town. These oak trees slated to be removed need to be protected. I agree with 12:33 PM, the city will try to declare them diseased and have them removed. What can be done before it's too late? Isn't the city's logo an oak tree?

Anonymous said...

The City Council, including Councilwoman Silva who lives near it, has already shown its disdain for neighborhood concerns. When neighbors asked the City Council to have a developer reduce the size of some McMansions being proposed in this old neighborhood and save a couple trees, the Council treated them with disdain and quickly turned them down. Will they feel the same about traffic concerns ? Neighborhoods are low priority for the City.

Stephen said...

In response to the point about the previous white building's capacity and how much traffic it created, is true. That building being full in the past probably was 50-100 additional cars from 8am - 6pm. The difference is the development thats occurred between 1985 and 2013 when the building was mostly unoccupied.

The positive side of Walnut Creek and the continued expansion of downtown is the Free Ride.
In the most recent budget, they were attempting to cut some costs, and they knew getting rid of the Free Ride wasn't the way. Even if it's 15 people per round trip, those are people that left their car in one parking garage or decided to not drive at all.