In a City Council study session held Tuesday, Sept. 24, Dan Diebel of developer Greystar said his firm is making agreements with Rose Market, Peet's coffee, Sufi Coffee shop, Tanya Hair Design and Le's Alterations, giving them space in the new mixed-use, four-story project that's proposed. Efforts are even being made to temporarily relocate the businesses to an open lot across the street, though the largest of the bunch, the Rose Market, wouldn't be one of them.
"I think this is a moral issue," Diebel said. "We're making deals with them now to relocate them and move them back in. We would accept a condition to do that."
A council majority did not have major issues with the first look at a rough initial design of the project as it was proposed Tuesday. Another study session on the project is planned.
Council members and several members of the public praised the developer for making the unusual effort to save the local businesses on the "gateway corner."
"I can't think of another developer we've worked with that would keep Rose and Peet's and everybody else," said longtime council member Mike Kasperzak. "What they are doing to keep the sense of community is really laudable."
It turned out that Rose Market's owner Javad Mehran was still concerned about employment for his 25 employees during construction, an issue Diebel said he promised to continue to work on.
Despite several neighborhood meetings with a developer who was said to have pitched over a dozen different designs for the project — lowering its height from five to four stories, reducing the apartment count from 192 to 170, doubling the retail square footage to 10,063 and increasing parking spaces — a vocal group of a dozen neighbors continued to have numerous complaints. The issues included increased traffic, the four-stories towering over the neighborhood, the orientation of a plaza at the corner being too close to busy El Camino Real, a possible "road diet" aimed at making the street safer and even complaints about a possible increase in crime and infestations of rats and cockroaches from the new buildings.
The apartments will be home to some of the city's wealthier new residents if new apartment projects around the city are any indication.
Most council members indicated support for keeping the proposed plaza at the corner as opposed to an alternative that would have it behind Peet's coffee along an alleyway, which some said would be better than breathing exhaust fumes from traffic on El Camino Real. Others mentioned examples of pleasant places to sit along El Camino Real — the plaza in front of Kepler's Books in Menlo Park, and even the benches in front of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop in Mountain View. "I would sit there," said council member Ronit Bryant of the proposed plaza.
"I do have a patio on El Camino Real but if you try to conduct any business there, it's difficult," said council member John McAlister, who owns the Baskin-Robbins.
The developer said that a "glass screen" would be used to keep noise down from El Camino Real, while there would be shade from umbrellas and a trellis for a "front porch" effect.
One neighbor has taken issue with all of the complaining, and she lives right next to the project. "I think it looks beautiful," she said. "I would like to have that next to me instead of the current buildings that look old."
Kasperzak noted that it could be worse for those neighbors. The site is zoned for up to eight stories in the city's new general plan, as long as there is "significant community benefit" from the project. He questioned all the neighborhood opposition to the height of the buildings, which have the third and fourth stories set back from the rest.
"The buildings around the fence line are garages," Kasperzak said. "Behind the garages are two-story apartment buildings. I personally don't think noise" will be an issue. "The cars and garages will be more of a problem for people sitting in the public areas of the apartment complex."
A slide show revealed that the developer plans to put the Rose Market along El Camino Real, next to the corner where Peet's Coffee would have a plaza. Sufi Coffee Shop would go in just west of Rose Market, while Le's Tailoring and Tanya's Hair design have spaces fronting the other side of the publicly-owned alley that would continue to run through the site. Apartments would be built above all the retail space, with stoops along much of Castro Street. Parking would be in a garage tucked under the apartments. The architecture is strikingly modern and boxy, which would not fit in with the neighborhood, some council members said.
Council members indicated some support for the "road diet" on that portion of Castro Street, which would calm traffic in front of Graham Middle School, where several students were hit by cars last year. While the idea has had many champions over the last year, critics appeared to multiply when the project was proposed.
"Why we cannot do this project and the road diet at the same time, I can't understand," said council member Jac Siegel. "These projects are related and I'd really like to see them done together."
Business owner pleads for help
The owner of a new restaurant at 1036 Castro Street, Gochi Japanese Fusion Tapas, pleaded for help from the council Tuesday, having not been one of the businesses the developer decided to help relocate.
Sakae Mouji said he and his wife had spent their life savings renovating the inside of their restaurant, which opened in August. He said that he signed a lease for the building not knowing that he could be forced out in two years. He recalled the landlord saying "it wasn't his job" to explain the lease to him, though English is his second language.
"Basically he lied to us, he tricked us," Mouji said. "I have a family. I have a new young daughter. All of my money, I spent."
There was no response to the situation from the developer of the project, which "raises ethical questions of playing favorites with certain businesses," said Mayor John Inks.