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Publication Date: Friday, August 03, 2001

"We went out of our way to give them the opportunity to make their best proposal when we did this last spring, and they didn't come back with their best proposal. I would just as soon it be over with." @dropname:City Council member Mike Kasperzak "The council was clearly stampeded by a bunch of NIMBYs." @dropname:Doug Aikins, land-use attorney for Home Depot

Home Depot withdraws proposal Home Depot withdraws proposal (August 03, 2001)

Retail giant to come up with new plan

By Justin Scheck

Six years after first trying to move into the old Emporium site on El Camino Real, Home Depot Tuesday avoided what would likely have been the City Council's denial of its latest plan by withdrawing its proposal hours before the council met.

Rather than vote on the withdrawn proposal, the council instead moved to have city staff draft an ordinance that would allow the city to decide whether it wants to consider applications for rezoning, like Home Depot's, before having city staff work on them.

More than 200 local residents came out to express their feelings on Home Depot's proposed move to Mountain View, and while most wore the green "Neighbors for a Landmark and Gateway Project" badge to show their opposition to the home improvement titan's plan, others in attendance sported orange Home Depot stickers to show support.

But the crowd sighed with disappointment when it was announced that Home Depot had decided not to pursue the proposal.

According to Michael Percy, Mountan View's principal planner, Home Depot withdrew its application "at about 11 o'clock" Tuesday morning.

Ken Alsman, a consultant working for Home Depot on the project, said the company decided to withdraw its proposal after reviewing city staff's report on the plan.

The city staff report, prepared by Percy, says: "Overall, staff does not find the richness of materials, orientation to main City streets, design relief of the building size or fully integrated and balanced building design found in other prominent Mountain View buildings."

"We felt we had covered all the things (the city requested for the development), but this was the first time we got staff input," said Alsman. "Basically, we felt we were moving ahead in a very positive way, but there are some more things we have to respond to."

If the council had denied the plan, Home Depot would have been ineligible to reapply for one year. But by withdrawing the proposal, the retailer can reapply any time. Council outspoken in criticism

Council members reacted strongly to the withdrawal, and expressed doubt as to whether Home Depot can ever put together a suitable plan for the site.

Council member Rosemary Stasek, who has opposed a Home Depot at the Emporium site from the beginning, said, "In the past we have been very accommodating, but I think Home Depot has pushed the boundaries of reason and good faith."

Council member Michael Kasperzak, who had been open to having a Home Depot store as long as it met the city's design and operations standards, said he was let down by Home Depot's plan and the subsequent withdrawal.

"We went out of our way to give them the opportunity to make their best proposal when we did this last spring, and they didn't come back with their best proposal. I would just as soon it be over with," he said.

"What is it, a charade? That's what it looks like, a Home Depot charade. I was very upset with Home Depot last night," Mayor Mario Ambra said Wednesday.

Ambra said he also felt Home Depot's actions were inconsiderate to elderly people and parents who left their children at home to come to the meeting.

Council member Sally Lieber, who had been a vocal opponent of the store, abstained from discussing the issue Tuesday due to a potential conflict of interest.

Lieber's filings with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) indicate that she has investments in a trust that holds between $10,001 and $100,000 in Home Depot stock.

"I haven't been able to get a clear answer from the people I've been talking to on some stuff that my father-in-law is beneficiary of," said Lieber.

The FPPC requires public officials report holdings in trusts only if they amount to 10 percent or more of the trust. Lieber said last week that her family has only 8.5 percent of the trust, and she incorrectly filled out the FPPC form.

But on Wednesday she said that legal uncertainty about the holdings made it safer to abstain from voting, and thereby avoid a conflict of interest.

"I'm still firmly opposed to Home Depot at that site," she added. Home Depot decries tactics

Home Depot representatives maintain that the council's decision last night was the result of pressure by a small group of residents.

"The council was clearly stampeded by a bunch of NIMBYs," said Doug Aikins, a land-use attorney working for Home Depot, who was displeased with the proceedings.

"It seemed that there were two processes going on. One was the council's very, very high -- unusually high -- standards for aesthetics. Unfortunately, aesthetics are subjective," he said.

Aikins said the other process at work was the efforts of the Avery family, local developers who have led the charge against Home Depot.

"The Averys decided that their egos are more important than a rational decision making process. They placed themselves at the head of an unnecessarily angry mob," said Aikins.

He said the residents opposing the project are "well intentioned, but don't understand the issues."

"You have hypersensitive residents who complain regardless... You have to have a city council who stands up to them," he added.

Brian Avery said Tuesday that he feels Home Depot's tactics have been dishonest, and he plans to continue organizing community opposition. "We feel that we can't trust them," he said. Interest from other developers

Kasperzak and Stasek said that a number of developers have recently expressed interest in the site, including some who would like to develop a hotel there.

Percy said that he is drafting an ordinance that could allow the council to turn away rezoning applications, but that between researching and writing it, and having the city attorney's office review it before it goes to the council, the measure will probably not be discussed until September.

"The intent is to bring it up to the council as soon as we can possibly do it," said Percy, adding that it is possible that Home Depot could return with another plan before the regulation is adopted by the council.

Stasek said she worries that Home Depot is trying to wear the city government and residents down by dragging out the process.

"They have practically unlimited resources. They're a huge multinational corporation, and they have the resources to go back and back and back... They certainly may have it in their minds that if [they] make it so expensive and such a drain of resources for the city, we will give up," she said.

Alsman said Home Depot still wants to build a store on the site, and will continue to try to develop the site in a way that is satisfactory to all involved. He said he does not know when the store plans to return with another proposal.


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