San Lorenzo Express News

Village Commercial Center Plan Changes — Again

NOVEMBER 18, 2007

Plans to redevelop San Lorenzo's commercial center, begun in 1999, have significantly changed for the fifth time in as many years.

The first plan in 2002 called for a vibrant mix of housing and retail. The newest plan, unveiled between June and August, now offers a giant supermarket, new housing, and keeps many of the existing retails buildings. (For a history of the project see August 29, 2005 news story.)

The commercial district runs along Hesperian Boulevard and is owned entirely by the Bohannon Organization, successor to David Bohannon, who built San Lorenzo Village in the 1940s. In 2001 the Bohannons signed an agreement with Orange County developer Civic Partners to draw up a plan for rebuilding the half-vacant properties. The Alameda County Redevelopment Agency has put millions of dollars in reserve to help pay for development.

For the past couple years the wild card in the development had been whether the owners of the existing supermarket would want to build a new store or even remain in business in San Lorenzo. And ownership kept changing.

The store had been a Lucky Market until 1998, when Albertson's bought out all Lucky stores in the Bay Area. Almost from the beginning sales at these stores slid. In 2006 the Albertson chain was bought out by a complex investment partnership, which that same year sold the northern California stores to Modesto-based Save Mart. In September of this year Save Mart switched the former Albertson stores back to the Lucky name.

Because of the uncertainty following the sale of Albertson, Civic Partners did not know whether to plan for a new store. And if it did, should it plan to build a new store at the site of the existing store (on the east side of Hesperian) or on the site of the long-gone Mervyn's store (on the west side)?

Indeed, the developer seemed unable to proceed with a plan without a giant supermarket, and was prepared to fall back on a project dominated by housing. In April of last year Civic Partners released a site plan that reserved the west side property for unspecified "retail." At the time it stated that the total number of new housing units on the Bohannon land would be a little over 100, but if Albertson did not stay the number would be about 246. (See May 16, 2006 story.)

At the end of May 2007 Save Mart signed a letter of intent for construction of a new supermarket on the Bohannon properties. The letter laid down detailed conditions for a lease contract. Save Mart wants a 52,000 square foot store on the west side. The store, parking area, and delivery driveways would occupy all land along via Arriba and via Mercado as well as the existing parking area. Via Arriba would be closed off where it now intersects with via Mercado. This would leave a small area on Paseo Grande, across from the parking lot, where Civic Partners wants to build several homes and a small (8,000 square foot) retail space. (See new west side plan.)

Save Mart would not agree to building a new Lucky store until it had a commitment from the developer and the county Redevelopment Agency on a site plan, according to Mike Herrero of Civic Partners. The Redevelopment Agency plans to buy the Bohannon property and then lease it to Civic Partners for development. Save Mart's site plan would be a condition of the transfer of ownership from the Bohannons to the Redevelopment Agency and the subsequent lease to Civic Partners. Thus, Save Mart is in the driver's seat for redevelopment of San Lorenzo's "town center".

The dominance of a giant supermarket on the west side contrasts starkly with an earlier plan from December 2002, which called for a smaller supermarket and a variety of surrounding retail stores with residences in second and third stories. It also included a new post office on Paseo Grande. Current plans do not call for a new post office.

The plan for the new Lucky store would require an additional $1.8 million in Redevelopment Agency funding, according to a May 30 e-mail from Herrero. He did not make clear why such a large additional handout of public money is necessary, citing only increased land costs.

The new plan leaves existing structures on the east side of Hesperian except for the area occupied by Lamps Plus and the post office, where Civic Partners would like to build new housing.

The new plan, like its predecessors, was worked out in private meetings between Civic Partners, the Redevelopment Agency, County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker, and the San Lorenzo Village Homes Association. It was described publicly in three articles in the Daily Review (August 3, September 7, and October 5), and at the October 3 meeting of the San Lorenzo Area Citizens Advisory Committee, which reviews Redevelopment Agency spending and development plans in San Lorenzo.