BY JEN NOWELL
Daily Post Correspondent
The Menlo Park Planning Commission will make a decision tonight (Jan. 13) that could alter the future of Feldman’s Books as many residents are crying out for the city to help save the used bookstore.
Developers Chase Rapp and Brady Fuerst want to demolish Feldman’s at 1170 El Camino Real and the former Gentry Magazine building at 1162 El Camino to build nine apartments within a three-story building.
The planning commission is tasked tonight with determining whether or not the two buildings possess any historic significance.
If the commission determines they are historic, the buildings would be saved, and therefore, Feldman’s could remain. However, if the commissioners determine there is nothing historic about the structures, the project to demolish the buildings is one step closer to reality.
Residents have flooded the city with letters pleading with city officials to do what they can to save the buildings and the bookstore, but city officials are recommending planning commissioners make the determination that the buildings do not possess historic significance.
At a planning commission meeting in October, commissioners pushed the developers to help Feldman’s find a new home and also urged for more housing on the site.
Called a magical shop
In a letter to the commission, Suzan Szollar asked its members to save Feldman’s Books.
“It’s a miracle that it’s survived this long. It’s also one of the only local shops, maybe the only local shop, with magic left inside,” Szollar wrote. “Nearly all the great used bookshops in the Bay Area are gone, but somehow Feldman’s, until now escaped that fate.”
Lisa Maloney wrote that it would be a mistake to add more housing at this location, given all of the other housing that has been built “in our bedroom town community.”
“This area desperately needs places like this,” Jim Ilnicki wrote of the bookstore. “Please help keep it alive.”
And Dennis Gale claimed the bookstore is not just another Menlo Park business.
“It’s a legacy institution demonstrating how distinctive Menlo and its residents are. Protect Feldman’s at all costs,” he wrote.
Evidence needed for historic designation
In her report to the planning commission, Menlo Park Senior Planner Corinna Sandmeier said it is not enough that members of the community think the buildings and Feldman’s should be preserved.
“Although there is strong public support for preserving Feldman’s Books, the desired use as a bookstore is separate from determining that the buildings have potential historic significance,” Sandmeier said. “Preservation of the building would not safeguard any existing uses at the subject property.”
If the planning commission finds the buildings historically significant, then there needs to be substantial evidence and expert opinion supported by facts, she said.
Age doesn’t make something historic
In addition, age alone does not qualify the buildings as historic, Sandmeier said.
“Were it otherwise, every structure over a certain age would necessarily be considered a historic resource,” she said.
The site located between Oak Grove and Santa Cruz avenues consists of a two-story building that was built in 1904 and a one-story building that was constructed in 1910. Feldman’s is located on the first floor of the two-story building.
Bay Area Clinical Associates leases the second-floor space and the one-story building.
The developers submitted a historic resources evaluation for the property which concluded the buildings are not historic resources, because they are not associated with a prominent architect or event, they are not likely to yield important historical information, and they have been modified over the years, according to Sandmeier.
It was determined that the buildings don’t qualify as historically significant at the state or federal levels, but the planning commission does have the ability to determine their significance at the local level.
This determination is based solely on the buildings and not any use within the buildings, Sandmeier said.
While many residents have spoken out in favor of protecting Feldman’s, one resident wrote a letter supporting the new development along El Camino.
“I fully support this building being turned into apartments,” Michelle MacKenzie wrote. “Our community desperately needs more housing and hopefully at least some of it will be for low income residents.”
She added that the bookstore can move, but housing is needed along El Camino as it is close the transportation hubs.
The planning commission meets at 7 tonight (Jan. 13). The commission’s decision will go into effect 15 days after its decision unless it is appealed to City Council.