City starts planning for future of Fry’s site

By Elaine Goodman
Daily Post Correspondent

Pieces are finally falling into place for the redevelopment of the Fry’s Electronics property in Palo Alto, after decades of discussion about the site.

The city has received a $638,000 grant from the Valley Transportation Authority to draw up a plan for the 39-acre North Ventura area, which includes the Fry’s site. The plan is likely to feature high-density housing, including some affordable housing, along with commercial uses.

Transportation will be a large focus of the plan for the area, which is close to the California Avenue Caltrain station and bus service on El Camino Real. Creating better connections within the grid between El Camino and Park Avenue will be examined, as will the possibility of exposing part of Matadero Creek, which now runs through the site in a culvert.

But the changes won’t happen overnight. The planning process is expected to extend through December 2019, according to a report to the City Council. A working group of seven to 14 residents, business representatives and property owners will be appointed in March, according to the timeline, and a consultant hired in April.

The council is scheduled to discuss the plan tonight (Nov. 6).

The North Ventura area stretches roughly between El Camino Real and Alma Street, from Page Mill Road to Lambert Avenue. The area includes 15 acres owned by Sobrato Organization that houses Fry’s Electronics on Portage Avenue. Sobrato bought the parcel in 2011 for a price rumored to be between $70 million and $80 million, the Silicon Valley Business Journal reported.

The Fry’s site is regarded as a key opportunity for the addition of housing in Palo Alto.

The lease for Fry’s runs through early 2020, and Sobrato has the right to terminate leases for other tenants at the site at that time, Sobrato representatives told the council previously.

The land is zoned for housing, and Sobrato could go ahead and develop up to 350 units of housing without waiting for completion of the North Ventura plan, the report to council noted.

“This emphasizes the need to view the planning process as a collaboration to seek mutually beneficial outcomes for multiple stakeholders,” the report said.

But Sobrato has shown its support for the planning process by agreeing to provide $112,000 in matching funds required for the VTA grant, along with $138,000 to pay for environmental analysis. The city is in the process of formalizing the agreement.

The property owner offered to chip in on the planning process back in June 2015, when the council decided to pass up a VTA grant until an update to the city’s Comprehensive Plan was finished.

The Comprehensive Plan is now scheduled for final council approval this month. Regarding the Fry’s site, a draft of the document says: “Prepare a coordinated area plan for the Fry’s site and surrounding California Avenue area. The plan should describe a vision for the future of the Fry’s site as a walkable neighborhood with multi-family housing, ground floor retail, a public park, creek improvements, and an interconnected street grid.”

The Fry’s site is also mentioned in the city’s Housing Element, a section of the Comprehensive Plan that was adopted separately in 2014. The document says that with a mix of residential and commercial uses, the site would likely yield about 221 housing units.

Councilwoman Karen Holman has said she wants to see a park included in the plan.

“Fry’s is another really big opportunity for all manner of things including parkland,” Holman said in May, during a discussion of the city’s parks master plan.

The “coordinated area plan” that the city will develop for the North Ventura area, including the Fry’s site, will designate land uses for the area. It will include development standards, design guidelines and a plan for transportation connections and improvements.