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    • CommentTimeApr 23rd 2014
    Palo Alto: Council backs grant application for Fry's plan  
    Palo Alto will pursue a grant to draw up a master plan for a 15-acre site occupied by Fry's Electronics.  
    The nine-member City Council voted unanimously late Monday night to apply for a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority "priority development area" grant, but only after receiving assurances from city staff that it would not commit Palo Alto to a particular project.  
    "Sometimes it seems like we have applied for funding that then commits us to an outcome," Councilwoman Karen Holman said.  
    Hillary Gitelman, the city's director of Planning and Community Environment, said the city would control the process. The council would also have the option to pull out once the specifics are hammered out.  
    "This is not an irrevocable decision," she said.  
    With those assurances, Councilman Greg Scharff said he was comfortable moving forward.  
    "I don't want the community to think that by taking this grant that in any way we're predetermining the outcome of this, because we've been assured that we're not," he said. "What we're really doing is just saving Palo Alto's money by applying for the grant."  
    The Fry's site is a key piece of the California Avenue Concept Plan. In development since 2006, the document is intended to provide a framework for the redevelopment of a 115-acre area. Goals include adding housing, retaining existing retail and improving bike connections.  
    The main difference between the concept and master plans is that the latter would provide more specifics.  
    Whether the electronics retailer will remain on Portage Avenue is a mystery. It has rebuffed the city's requests for information. But there are rumblings that the property owner is eager to redevelop.  
    Despite overwhelming support for the grant application, council members voiced myriad concerns about the concept plan and said a much deeper vetting is needed before it can move forward.  
    Councilman Greg Schmid, for example, said he wanted to know precisely how much of the 115-acre area could be devoted to new housing units and thus help fulfill a state mandate.  
    "It is where we can have that vision of smart development, where you mix commercial and retail and people living," said Schmid, adding that he believed one-third was better than the 20 percent outlined in the plan.  
    Others wanted the concept plan to address the possibility that Fry's or a similar retailer would remain.  
    "That's a financial hit to our city and we need to think about that," Councilman Larry Klein said about the loss of the sales tax provided by Fry's. "I'm not so quick to rule out Fry's or a successor."  
    Councilman Pat Burt said he was worried that the concept plan would decrease the amount of retail in the area. A proposed "technology corridor" along Park Boulevard was of particular concern.  
    "We thought we were stepping over a cliff on the Jay Paul site," said Burt, referring to a recently rescinded application to add 311,000 square feet of office space to 395 Page Mill Road.  
    "We're running over the Grand Canyon potentially on approving these major upzonings without real consideration."  
    City Manager James Keene said a follow-up discussion about the concept plan would be scheduled in the coming weeks.  

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