Sunday, November 25, 2007

Vacaville Planning Commissioners endorsed a plan to renovate Alamo Plaza, which is at the southwest corner of Alamo Drive and Merchant Street.

Facelift seen in store for shopping center

By Jennifer Gentile//Staff Writer

Article Launched: 11/08/2007 07:28:19 AM PST

After a Planning Commission vote Tuesday night, better days may be ahead for a downtrodden shopping center in Vacaville.

The commissioners endorsed a plan to renovate Alamo Plaza, which is at the southwest corner of Alamo Drive and Merchant Street. The proposal now will be passed on to the City Council.

Although commissioners had some questions and concerns, their opinion of the makeover project was generally positive. Chair Brett Johnson described the plan as "exciting and innovative."

"We liked it; we thought it was unique," Johnson said. "It would be a nice addition to one of our gateways into Vacaville."

What is proposed, according to architect Rob Sesar, is nothing less than "a total remodel of the entire center," with changes to parking, appearance and several other aspects of the plaza. The improvements will hopefully "give the center a competitive edge," he said, "to match other newer centers in Vacaville."

Vice Chair Joe Niccoli said the project demonstrated creative, out-of-the-box thinking.

"It's a great project," he said. "We need to do something about the shopping centers in Vacaville."

Niccoli is not alone in considering shopping centers an important issue. Developing a strategy to help centers that are vacant or struggling is one of the priorities listed in the city's 2007-2009 Strategic Plan. The study, which is being developed, will look at strategies for replacing anchor stores and increasing the profile of these centers with signage or facade improvements.

The Alamo Plaza was built in the 1970s and features 165,100 square feet of gross leasable space. The vacancy rate at the center is an estimated 50 percent, and the largest tenant there now is Big Lots.

The overhaul proposal calls for new exterior features for existing buildings, a new 24,000-square-foot office/commercial building and a centrally located tower.

Some of the materials that would be used to spruce up the center are cement plaster walls, cornice and accents, decorative brick and metal columns, aluminum storefronts and metal roofs.

A driveway along Alamo Drive would be removed under the renovation plan, and the parking lot and drive aisles would be re-striped.

According to a staff report, the tower will have a base that is 20 feet by 20 feet and will "include a storefront for a small tenant space."

Although the applicant, F.H. One, Inc., proposed a 78-foot tower, the maximum height allowed under Land Use and Development Code is 70 feet. Following staff's recommendation, the commission did not grant the variance required to exceed this height.

"There are rules for a variance, and it didn't meet the criteria," Niccoli said. Namely, there are no extraordinary circumstances that apply to this property, and lack of a variance will not result in "practical difficulty or unnecessary physical hardship."

The project is also 101 parking spaces short of meeting Land Use and Development Code standards. According to the staff report, the applicant provided parking and traffic studies to support its request. The commission agreed upon an exception, allowing 657 spaces, rather the required 758.

"With the proposed improvements to aesthetics, safety, types of uses with a new office commercial building and low impact on traffic on Alamo Drive and Merchant Street, staff believes the parking deficit will not be detrimental," the report explained.

If visitors should ever fill the parking lot at Alamo Plaza, Johnson said, "At some point in time, wouldn't that be a nice problem to have for that center?"

Niccoli said, "based on the traffic study and parking study, they should be fine."

An issue that seemed to concern the vice chair more than parking was the coming and going of patrons.

At some point, he said, "the city needs to look at the issue of whether left turns should be made out of that shopping center (onto Merchant Street). He also questioned the safety of "people going in there after they've just gotten off of Interstate 80."

Overall, however, Niccoli said the reception to the project "was very positive" and "people thought very highly of it."

"I think the commissioners unanimously hope it's an unbelievable success," he said.

Sesar said he hopes to begin the first phase of the three-phase project in the spring. With approval from the City Council, he said marketing efforts can immediately begin to generate interest in the center.

Jennifer Gentile can be reached at

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