BY KYLE MARTIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
The Sobrato Organization is proposing to build 85 townhouses on a portion of the old Fry’s Electronics lot on Portage Avenue in Palo Alto.
Sobrato wants to build the townhouses on 4.5 acres of the Fry’s site, according to a letter sent to the city on Nov. 17. The entire Fry’s site is about 12.5 acres. The developer has previously suggested putting a Target at the site.
There is no formal proposal for the remainder of the site. But at a January meeting, Sobrato Senior Vice President Tim Steele brought up that Target is interested in the site.
Steele said Sobrato had previously “kicked (Target) to the curb,” but Target’s head of real estate continued to express interest in the site. He also noted that Target has gone into historic buildings and has experience going into small sites, such as the Target on Main Street in Cupertino.
Former Mayor Karen Holman, who has been following the plan to rezone and revamp the Fry’s site, which is part of the 60-acre North Ventura plan, said she has not heard any update on the Target proposal since that January meeting.
However, over the summer, Sobrato appears to have submitted a query with the city regarding commercial tenants in the building, according to the city’s Building Eye website.
Holman said Friday that she wants to see the project studied more before any official development decisions are made. She also noted she wants to see more housing dedicated to lower income levels in Palo Alto, including at the former Fry’s site.
“We have a housing affordability issue. And housing prices have dropped recently, but not enough to be accessible for our lower income community members,” Holman said, adding she wants workers in fields such as health care, public education, retail workers and city employees to be able to make it into some of these homes.
Councilwoman Liz Kniss said the project is just a “preliminary for something coming in eventually,” so the public shouldn’t be convinced quite yet that the Sobrato Organization’s proposal will go through.
Kniss was on council in the 90s when the council debated whether to keep the Fry’s, and now as she is leaving council, the Fry’s site is back in the headlines.
“We voted to keep a Fry’s there rather than going with housing because the Fry’s was a good tax base for the city,” Kniss said.
But with storefronts closing throughout Palo Alto and beyond, Kniss said it might be better to see townhouses, or just housing in general, on the block because “we no longer look at brick and mortar in the same way” and because “with everybody shopping online, it’s a completely different market.”
The Sobrato Organization, in the letter to city Planning Director Jonathan Lait, asserts the city cannot deny its proposal and that the city actually needs the housing it proposes if it wants to maintain its plans to provide more affordable housing in the future. The organization cited SB330, state law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019, which expedites stypes of housing projects until 2025.
If approved, the company said the project could bring as many as 85 homes to the area with 15% of those, or 13 total, priced for moderate income level residents.
SB330 gives preference to development proposals designed with at least 20% of its housing dedicated to be sold or rented to lower income households.
Fry’s Electronics shut its doors in Palo Alto in January. The San Jose-based electronics store has steadily been closing locations, including recently its Campbell store. It has also closed stores in Sacramento and Anaheim. Fry’s still has stores open in Fremont, Sunnyvale and San Jose.