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Issue date: January 26, 2001



Home Depot proposes housing and big-box for Emporium site Home Depot proposes housing and big-box for Emporium site (January 26, 2001)

Mixed reaction from council, residents

By Justin Scheck

Hundreds of community members turned out Tuesday to protest, or support, Home Depot's latest efforts to move into Mountain View.

At the study session residents, city staff, and a Home Depot representative argued the pros and cons of opening a big-box store at the old Emporium site at El Camino and Highway 85.

After the meeting, little was clear beyond the uncertainty of the entire project.

The study session, according to a city staff report, was intended to give the council an overview of the Environmental Planning Commission's recommendations for how a big-box retail store would have to be modified to fit the site.

However, this did not stop hundreds of community members from packing the council chambers to show their support for, or dislike of, opening a large home improvement center on the site.

And while the anti-Home Depot contingent was in the majority, a large number of people also sported Home Depot's "Make It Happen."

Prior to the meeting, Home Depot representatives handed out the stickers, while Brian Avery, a Mountain View resident whose family owns apartments on Dale Avenue, near the Emporium site, had a table set up with a photomontage of alleged violations that have taken place at other Home Depot stores.

At the meeting Jim Lyon, Home Depot's real estate manager for the Northwest, spoke to the council about how the hardware chain could build a big-box retail project that would meet the planning commission's design guidelines for a "gateway/landmark" project.

Lyon did not submit a building plan, but suggested that the company wants to build a two-story mixed-use development that could have housing, as well as the store, on the site.

"What we have to do is come up with an innovative site plan, and an exceptional plan," Lyon said, adding that Home Depot has not begun working on a plan because the design guidelines have not been finalized.

Council and community members had mixed reactions to the presentation.

Resident Greg Blotter said that "the activism of some community residents reminds me of people who move in next to an airport and then proceed to complain about airport noise. It has been many decades since the corner of El Camino and Highway 85 could be called a serene oasis, so the protestations of paradise lost hold little credibility with me."

In a Wednesday interview, Blotter said, "I think it would provide an increased sales tax base for the city. I think the community service they offer would benefit the community, and I think the services and goods they provide are good."

Blotter said also that he also believes that the media, including the Voice, have been biased against Home Depot.

However, Avery, who has been active for a number of years in opposing Home Depot, said Wednesday that, in his opinion, other business uses contemplated for the property could bring in comparable sales tax revenues without disturbing the neighborhood.

Avery said that, even if Home Depot was able to meet the city's design standards, the amount of stress the traffic would put on the local infrastructure, as well as on the Sylvan-Dale neighborhood, is an insurmountable problem.

However, he also said that if Home Depot built a store in Mountain View, his contracting company would use it, and, in doing so, create a significant disturbance to area residents.

"I would transfer our trucking operation from our company land on Dana Street to Home Depot's lot... Our small company alone would have 14 trucks there each morning," he said.

According the city's report, the guidelines suggest any project submitted by the company:

1) have "significant window areas on all sides of the building, a quality storefront design and a basic building shape... that would visually reduce the scale of the building";

2) prohibit "above-grade parking structures and limit the building height to 35 feet";

3) prohibit outdoor sales or displays, and enclose all storage areas;

4) separate pedestrian pathways and entrances from vehicle loading areas; and

5) restrict outdoor lighting and require landscaping and screen walls to protect the adjacent residential area.

Lyon explained that, while Home Depot has waited to formulate plans until the design guidelines are made official by the council, he would like to see some changes made in the planning commission's recommendations.

These include an increased height allowance to allow for a two-story building, an allowance for at-grade parking, and zoning changes that would permit a higher floor-space to property-size ratio and a housing element of approximately 1.5 acres.

But council members expressed some displeasure with this process, saying that, rather than create the guidelines prior to Home Depot's plan, they would like to see the company's plan first, and have an idea of what would be presented.

"I'm tired of playing footsie with Home Depot," Vice-mayor Sally Lieber said at the study session.

"If they don't come up with a very unique building design, I don't think they'll make it in this town," Council member Ralph Faravelli said Wednesday.

"I'm a property rights activist myself, and I'd like to see (Home Depot) here, but it has to be the right kind of building," Faravelli said.

Council member Rosemary Stasek said she feels that the issue of the building is less of a problem than the issue of traffic, especially heavy trucks.

Meeting the city's building specifications "may not be economically feasible, but it's certainly architecturally feasible," Stasek said.

"But unless they were to run this store completely differently from the way they operate their other hundreds of stores, it would not be acceptable," Stasek continued.

She said that, even if the city imposes strict operational guidelines on the store, it would be nearly impossible to enforce the laws on out-of- state trucking companies that would make deliveries to the store.

"There's no amount of sales tax we could get that would justify 24-by-7 code enforcement on that site," she said.

"It has been my consistent position that Home Depot is not a good neighbor. The stores that are in commercial areas can work, but the ones that are adjacent to residential (areas) have shown they're not a good neighbor," said Stasek.

However, Ken Alsman, former Mountain View principal planner and now a consultant for Home Depot, said, "I think the fact is that the Home Depots that people are referring to (in their complaints) do not have (operational) restrictions."

Alsman said he believes the store could be operated within the parameters set by the city. Alsman asked, "What else is allowed on the site? Are people suggesting that other uses won't create traffic?"

He also said that Home Depot has received "over 2,000" positive responses to the project from community members.

However, no one yet knows what the next step will be. Faravelli and Stasek said they expect Home Depot to present a formal request to alter the zoning of the site, but Stasek had questions about their new plans.

"I have always been skeptical...They went through a nine-month EPC process, and now, all of a sudden, it's a multi-use project?" 


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