The complexion of a very busy intersection at Ygnacio Valley and Oak Grove Roads, a critical part of the East Bay’s main artery to Clayton, will be changing in the next few years, thanks to an ambitious proposal at the Shadelands business park.
Known as The Orchards at Walnut Creek, it is a planned shopping center that include 219,000 square feet of retail space, including a new 55,000-square-foot Safeway grocery story, other “major tenants,” specialty shops, restaurants, 200-units of senior housing, a children’s splash park and play area, green space and a mile of jogging trails.
Just last week, Walnut Creek planners released the eagerly anticipated draft EIR, and community members have 45 days in which to comment.
Meanwhile, across Ygnacio Valley Road, in the Encina Grande Shopping Center, a Whole Foods is slated to take over an enlarged space vacated by the smaller Safeway store, which will close when the newer, bigger one opens. It is part of a renovation of that center that will also see Walgreens move to the east end of the center and expand to include a drive-through.
Safeway currently owns the land where the Orchards will be built, with two of its corporate buildings located there. It received approval to rezone the property for a multi-use project. The plan has undergone several renovations based on months of community input, and the latest calls for rooftop parking with elevators down to the stores, right-turn entrances on Oak Grove and Ygnacio Valley, and larger entry/exits on Via Monte and Shadelands Avenues. There will be pedestrian walkways, a shallow play-creek, and even a Main Street-like drive through the development.
“We really want to reflect the needs of the community,” says project spokesperson Deborah Karbo.
While it might sound like a huge improvement for the Shadelands, which has been suffering decreasing tenancy in the last five years, the project is not being greeted with open arms by all residents. Traffic concerns, and the fate of the Citrus Center Marketplace just across Oak Grove Road, are all major concerns, says Steve Elster, a Woodlands resident and a vocal opponent of the project.
“We don’t need another grocery store,” says Elster, citing Whole Foods, the new Safeway, and Nob Hill, as well as stores like Trader Joe’s, just down the street on Oak Grove, and the Bancroft Avenue Safeway and the Fresh and Easy grocery store in the Ygnacio Plaza shopping center, barely a mile away.
What’s more important, Elster says, is that the neighborhood doesn’t need more traffic, something residents who travel along Ygnacio Valley Road to Concord and Clayton will agree with. “It’s the residents number-one concern,” he says. “We still don’t know how this big new development will impact traffic.”
Still, many merchants are embracing the idea. One of them, Rocco Biale, who owns Rocco’s Ristorante in Encina Grande, was an early supporter of the Orchards project. “I think overall the competition will be good for the community,” he says. “My main concern, like everyone else’s, is the traffic.” The city plans to release an enhanced traffic study later this spring.
Another unknown is how the Orchards will impact Citrus Center Marketplace, which already has several vacancies. Elster has already combed through portions of the EIR, and cites in the “Urban Blight” section that says the Nob Hill Foods is the most vulnerable to shut-down. “We don’t want to lose that,” he says.
City officials say they hope to have final approval of the project by next summer. Walnut Creek hopes to gain as much as $5 million in fees associated with the project, not to mention increased sales tax.
Meanwhile, to help facilitate growth in the Shadelands, landlords and the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce are looking to develop a Property Improvement Business district, which will allow for better signage, tougher security and even a BART shuttle.