On Tuesday, January 24, the Los Altos City Council approved a design proposal by Safeway to tear down and rebuild its store downtown.
The new building will be two stories tall with a parking lot on the first floor and the store on the second. The structure will expand from 22,585 square feet to about 45,000 square feet and will include expanded produce, meat, bakery and deli sections, as well as a Starbucks and a pharmacy.
Safeway Director of Public and Government Affairs Susan Houghton said that Safeway hopes to submit its building permit by July and to be open for Thanksgiving in 2013.
“They anticipate [construction taking] just 10 months, which is incredibly fast, but Safeway is the kind of business that can really get that done,” Assistant City Manager James Walgren said. “They do this all the time, but a typical project of this size would be about an 18 to 24-month project.”
Safeway and the city have met for many years about the possibility of a new store, but this is the first plan that has satisfied all the criteria that both parties had.
One criteria that delayed the progress was parking. Due to the shape and size of the lot, Safeway has been unable to meet the city’s greater parking requirement for the proposed larger store.
“They wanted to expand the size of the store, but our parking requirement in downtown requires 5 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet, so when they wanted to build a 45,000 square foot building, that’s a lot of parking spaces,” Mayor Pro-Tem Jared Fishpaw said.
In the newly-approved version, the entire first story is being used for parking. The new parking lot has 154 spaces, leaving it short 72 spaces per city requirements. However, Safeway hired a traffic engineer who analyzed the parking data and realized the parking requirement would generally be lighter than what the city required Safeway to provide.
“They were able to say that there were only a handful of days … that they are actually not going to have enough parking,” Fishpaw said.
Traffic engineers also realized that Safeway’s peak parking hours differ from those of the city. Thus, customers can park in the city parking lots when the Safeway lots are full.
“[Safeway’s peak hours are] in the evenings, it’s after 4 p.m., and [the city’s] parking plazas are full at midday, but by 4 p.m. they start to empty out,” Walgren said.
In return, Safeway agreed to have 124 of its parking spaces designated as public parking, which will allow residents more parking when downtown is at its busiest. Safeway will also give the city $500,000 to research solutions to the parking problems.
“That’s a benefit for the city, we [will] pick up 50 … spaces on average that are going to be empty … that people can use to go downtown,” Walgren said.
Although the design plan has been approved by the City Council, Safeway must still submit their construction documents to gain approval for its building plans.
“The biggest challenge … is getting the approval of the City Council to move forward,” Fishpaw said. “They’ve just got to submit all the rest of the documentation that shows this project in more detail.”
Once that is completed Safeway can begin construction on the site.
“The current Los Altos store was built in 1967,” Houghton said. “We wanted Los Altos residents to be able to experience the new offerings that a lifestyle store can bring. The new design provides that experience as well as ample parking.”