Monday, November 17, 2008

Sacramento City Design Board Agrees With Oak Park Group on Design Changes For Proposed Fresh & Easy Store; Escrow Closed on $1.1 Million Parcel

Fresh & Easy Buzz first reported on and wrote about the interesting and newsworthy plans by Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market to built one of its small-format, convenience-oriented grocery and fresh foods markets in Sacramento, California's Oak Park neighborhood, which is underserved by grocery stores, as part of the grocery chain's plans to move into the Northern California market from its headquarters base in Southern California.

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market currently operates 100 Fresh & Easy banner stores in Southern California, Metropolitan Las Vegas, Nevada and in the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan region. The grocery chain has confirmed plans to open 19 markets in the Sacramento/Vacaville Metropolitan region. Fresh & Easy Buzz has identified an additional two proposed units in the market, for a total of 21 thus far.

What made the choice by Tesco's Fresh & Easy of Sacramento's Oak Park Neighborhood interesting were two things: that the historically low-income neighborhood, which has been experiencing gentrification over the last few years, is underserved by supermarkets (there's only one supermarket in the neighborhood, a FoodSource warehouse format discount store operated by the Sacramento-based Raley's chain) store, and that the vacant lot the Fresh & Easy store is to be located on was owned (until last week) by the development company owned by former NBA all-star basketball player and Sacramento native Kevin Johnson, who as of November 4 is the Mayor-elect of the city of Sacramento.

Even more interesting is that Kevin Johnson was raised in the very same Oak Park neighborhood in the city. After retiring from the NBA a few years ago he returned home to Sacramento, started a development company, along with a non-profit community development foundation which he located in Oak Park, and began rapidly became a major player in Sacramento's development community and in the city's political circles.

Johnson announced his plans early in 2008 to challenge encumbent Sacramento mayor Heather Fargo in what was a June election. Johnson defeated Fargo in that election. However, because Sacramento has a municipal election law requiring the winner of the mayor's race to win by at least a 50% margin -- Johnson was just a couple percentage points shy of that number -- the two faced each other again in a runoff election on November 4. Kevin Johnson defeated Mayor Fargo by a substantial margin in that race. He takes office in January, 2009.

The proposed Oak Park neighborhood Fresh & Easy story got even more interesting when we discovered and reported that the Oak Park Neighborhood Association, which is comprised of a group of residents who live in the neighborhood, had been attempting to negotiate with the developer of the Fresh & Easy market (and thus Tesco's Fresh & Easy) slated for Broadway and 34th Street in Oak Park about wanting to have certain design changes made to the store building as well as the site in general.

As we wrote about, the neighborhood association felt they were not being heard, which tunred out to be the case because the City of Sacramento Design Review Board passed Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's and the developers plans for the store and site without any amendments.

This didn't sit well with the members of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association. Therefore they decided to take advantage of a law in Sacramento which allows groups such as there's to appeal commercial building design decisions by that very city design board.

Dustin Litrell, a resident of Oak Park and a member of the neighborhood association filed an appeal against the design of the Fresh & Easy market and the site on behalf of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association as we wrote about here on October 7.

As per the city law, the Sacramento Design Review Commission set a hearing for the neighborhood group's appeal. In this piece, "Hearing Tonight For Sacramento, CA Neighborhood Group's Appeal of Design of Fresh & Easy Store Proposed For Their Oak Park Neighborhood," we reported the hearing was held on October 15, which it was.

At the hearing Dustin Littrell presented a full-blown presentation, including traffic documentation studies, a professional drawing produced by a neighborhood urban designer depicting the Oak Park Neighborhood Association's version of what the Fresh & Easy store and the site should look like, as well as other well-researched and documented arguments as to why Tesco's Fresh & Easy should make the five key changes the neighborhood group was proposing be made to the store and site.

Below are the five changes the Oak Park Neighborhood Association proposed be made to the store at Broadway and 34th Street in the resident's Sacramento neighborhood:

1. Enhanced Sidewalk - Widened, landscaped path w/ trees, benches and decomposed granite running from the corner of 34th St. and 2nd Ave. to Broadway

2. Broadway Arbor (Trellis) - Brick and metal structure running along Broadway, creating a continuous presence along the street, mitigating effects of building footprint being rotated away from Broadway

3. Tower redesign - Located in southwest corner of the building, an emergency exit door is situated under it, connecting the physical building to Broadway. The proposed design created concerns with regards to loitering, illegal activity and safety.

4. Broadway Entry - Shift pedestrian/ADA access to front doors, out of the parking area to the West, mitigating pedestrian/bike/car encounters. Widened approach from Broadway sidewalk with areas for cafe-style seating and landscaping.

5. Exit only at South exit - Create an exit only condition at the southern most drive aisle from parking area onto 34th St. This will create shorter distances for pedestrians crossing much slower, exit-only traffic. It will also help mitigate traffic congestion at the corner intersection of 34th St, 2nd Ave and Broadway.

Earlier this month the Sacramento Design Review Board decided to amend its approval of the proposed Oak Park Fresh & Easy store based on the data, arguments and presentation made at the October 15 appeal hearing by Dustin Littrell and the other members of the neighborhood group who were involved in the process.

According to the Sacramento Design Review Commission and the Oak Park Neighborhood Association's Littrell, the design board addressed four (items 1-4 as detailed above) of the five issues above, and is changing the conditions of its approval of the original store design submitted by Tesco's Fresh & Easy to reflect the changes won by the neighborhood group.

The four (out of the five proposed by the group at the appeals hearing) changes or new conditions of approval the city's design review board is making are:

1. Broadway Trellis

2. 2nd Ave enhanced sidewalk (public gathering space)

3. Redesign of the Tower along Broadway, now enclosed and included in building footprint

4. Broadway sidewalk access, relocated to the outside edge of parking lot.

The fifth point, the one the city design board didn't make a decision on, involves the exit-only drive at 34th Street and 2nd Avenue. It's point number five on the original list at top. Littrell says the design board didn't have the jurisdition to rule on the traffic-oriented matter one way or the other. A spokesperson with the Saccramento Design Review Board confirmed that is the case for Fresh & Easy Buzz.

Below is how Dustin Littrell, who spearheaded the design appeal process on behalf of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association, described the decision by the Sacramento Design Review Board to make four of the five design changes proposed by the neighborhood residents a condition of Fresh & Easy's design of its Oak Park, Sacramento market in an email he recently sent members of the association and he shared with Fresh & Easy Buzz:

"The Design Commission sided with the community and will write into the conditions of approval, four of the five key points we raised.

The fifth point was an issue regarding a traffic study and was not a decision the commission had the power to make.

We did however, have the traffic engineer present at the hearing. He said that he'll give us the opportunity to pursue whatever actions are available to have a traffic study completed for the intersection and hopefully address the issue of allowing an exit-only driveway at the corner of 34th street and second avenue.

The commission was extremely grateful for the organization and through presentation. They actually came up to us after the hearing and shook our hands rather than us going up to shake theirs.

The (Oak Park neighborhood) community was truly proud of it's accomplishments, albeit meager, we struck a balance between running them off and allowing them to silence us. It was a true compromise and no one walked away with a total victory.

Bittersweet in a sense that we feel the store should be squarely located on Broadway at the back of the curb, but we will hopefully end up with a decent design, not great, but decent as Ron Vrilakas stated in our defense last night."

[Editor's Note: Ron Vrilakas is a Sacramento architect who has built a number of residential and commercial projects in the Oak Park and Midtown neighborhoods in the city.

His Fourth Avenue residential lofts project in Oak Park has drawn numerous higher-income young professionals to the historically low-income neighborhood in recent years. Many of those newer residents are the ones who spearheaded the Oak Park Neighborhood Association's appeal of the design of the Fresh & Easy store in the neighborhood.

Since first reporting this story many months ago we've talked to a number of long time residents of the Oak Park neighborhood, most lower-income individuals. Most of those we talked to weren't extremely concerned about the design of the Fresh & Easy store. Rather, those that did know about the market being proposed for the neighborhood told us what they cared about most was if the grocer offered good quality fresh foods and groceries at reasonable to low prices.]

As Dustin Litrell mentioned in the quote above, the Oak Park Neighborhood Association is considering having a traffic study done as a way to address the fifth point of their appeal, the one the city's design commission couldn't rule on one way or the other since it is a city traffic department issue rather than one under the jurisdiction of the design board.

Other than that point though Littrell says the neighborhood residents will live with the changes they were able to get the Sacramento Design Review board to write into the required conditions Tesco's Fresh & Easy and the developer of the Oak Park Fresh & Easy market must follow in building the store at the neighborhood location.

Tesco's Fresh & Easy closes escrow on Oak Park parcel

Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market and the developer of the vacant parcel at Broadway and 34th Street in Sacramento's Oak Park Neighborhood appear to be fine with the changes required of the store and site design mandated by the city's design board, even though the company didn't initially want to make any of the changes prior to the October 15 appeals hearing, although the developer did begin negotiating with Littrell a couple weeks before the hearing, both sides making good progress, Dustin Littrell told Fresh & Easy Buzz in an email.

Last week Fresh & Easy and the developer closed escrow on the 1.6 acre Oak Park neighborhood vacant lot at Broadway and 34th Street, buying it for $1.1 million from former NBA all-star, developer and now Sacramento Mayor-elect Kevin Johnson's Kynship Development Corp, according to the City of Sacramento.

Ironically the purchase of the Oak Park parcel came in the same week Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market CEO Tim Mason announced in an interview with the United Kingdom newspaper The Times that the Southern California-based grocery and fresh foods chain has decided to scale back the extremely rapid new store opening program its been conducted for the last year, including postponing the launch of its Northern California stores, because of the current global financial crisis and what is shaping up to be a very severe recession in the United States. The first Fresh & Easy store, in Hemet, California, opened the last week of October, 2007. One year later there are 100 of the grocery markets open and operating.

Read our two recent stories on this development at the links below:

>November 12, 2008: Analysis: Hard Times at Fresh & Easy - Northern California Expansion to Be Postponed or Shelved Do to Economy; But its Only a Symptom Not the Cause

>November 16, 2008: Tesco Fresh & Easy CEO Tim Mason Says He's 'Deliriously Happy' With the Chain's Progress Thus Far; We Prefer Andy Grove's 'Only the Paranoid Survive'

We suggest however the fact Tesco's Fresh & Easy and the developer are moving forward and acquiring the Oak Park neighborhood parcel in Sacramento is a strong indication the retailer's plans to postpone its Northern California launch are just that, plans to postpone rather than a decision to not enter the market at all, which is something we doubt would be the case, at least at this point in time.

But based on CEO Mason's announcement in his The Times interview, along with the fact Tesco is considerably behind schedule in completing its Northern California distribution center in Stockton, which is about 40 miles from Sacramento in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, we don't see the grocery chain opening any stores in Northern California in the first quarter of 2009. In fact, we would be surprised to see the first Northern California Fresh & Easy market open before May or June of 2009, and possibly later than that.

We also don't rule out another surprise announcement like the postponement news Tim Mason made in The Times. This one would be announcing that due to the severe recession Tesco's Fresh & Easy has decided not to enter the Northern California market in 2009.

Right now we believe the grocery chain still plans to open a few of its first stores in Northern California sometime in 2009, based on what we are being told by our sources. However, don't rule out the possible announcement mentioned above.

Meanwhile, the residents of Sacramento's Oak Park neighborhood aren't likely to get their Fresh & Easy small-format, convenience-oriented grocery and fresh foods market anytime soon. Even if the store construction was fast-tracked (which it won't be), and the Northern California launch postponement postponed, its doubtful the store could be completed soon enough to even open in 2009.

But despite that, at least for the members of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association, if and when they do get a Fresh & Easy market in the neighborhood, it will look considerably more like the store they wanted because the group took their desires and ideas to the city's design board and won a number of changes.

Ironically for Tesco's Fresh & Easy, if and when it opens its store in Oak Park, it's likely going to find that the store will be more welcomed, be adopted more by the residents, and do more business because at least some of the residents in the neighborhood had a say in how the store set to go into their neighborhood looks.

The late powerhouse Democratic Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas "Tip" O' Neil used to tell everybody he could on a daily basis that "All politics is local." That's something he proved to be true having never been seriously challenged for his House seat even once by another Democrat or a Republican in his Boston, Massachusetts district in a career that spanned about four decades in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Grocery stores, especially those proposed by chains, invoke a similar feeling of localism, as they should, among residents of neighborhoods throughout the U.S. and in other places in the world such as the United Kingdom where Tesco is headquartered and is that nation's number one food and grocer retailer.

While we won't go as far as to paraphrase Tip O' Neil's famous saying by claiming "All food and grocery retailing is local." We will go as far as to say: "Taking local residents concerns, ideas and input into serious consideration is something all food and grocery chain's should do on their own, proactively, when proposing new stores in neighborhoods." It always good for business to do so, as well as being good for the neighborhood residents.

Fresh & Easy Buzz Editor's Note:

You can view the City of Sacramento Design Review Board's documents, along with the Oak Park Neighborhood Association's "community design plan" presented to the board at the October appeal hearing of the Fresh & Easy grocery market at these links: DR08-132_ROD_-_DC_APPEAL.pdf (143KB), community plan.jpg (1826KB), VA_Fresh_&_Easy2.jpg (1118KB), FnE Trellis 1.jpg (2806KB), FnE Trellis 2.jpg (2793KB), DOC010.PDF (1376KB).

Reader Resources

Related posts from Fresh & Easy Buzz:

>Wednesday, October 8, 2008: Putting the 'Neighborhood' in Neighborhood Market: 'Localism' and Tesco's Proposed Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market in Sacramento's Oak Park

>Tuesday, October 7, 2008: Sacramento's Oak Park Neighborhood Association Files Appeal On Design of Proposed Neighborhood Fresh & Easy Store; Hearing Set For Oct.15

>Wednesday, October 15, 2008: Hearing Tonight For Sacramento, CA Neighborhood Group's Appeal of Design of Fresh & Easy Store Proposed For Their Oak Park Neighborhood

>July 16, 2008: Fresh Feature: A Former NBA All-Star Who Wants to Become Mayor, A Trade Union, And A Future Tesco Fresh & Easy Grocery Store In Sacramento, California

>April 29, 2008: Tesco's Fresh & Easy an Issue in Sacramento, California Mayor's Race A Year Before its First Store in the Capital City Even Opens

>March 7, 2008: Former NBA All-Star and Sacramento Native Kevin Johnson is the Driving Force Behind a Fresh & Easy Market in Sacramento's Oak Park Neighborhood

>February 28, 2008: News & Analysis: Tesco's Fresh & Easy Confirms 19 Store Locations for the Sacramento-Vacaville Region in Northern California

>February 13, 2008: Leading Democratic Candidate for President Barack Obama Joins Group in Asking Tesco's Fresh & Easy to Put More Stores in Underserved Neighborhoods

>February 8, 2008: Retail Memo: Tesco Fresh & Easy Insight: A New Store Blooms in Compton, CA.; F&E's Chicagoland March; a Sacramento Neighborhood and F&E Get Hitched

>February 8, 2008: Read this February 8, 2008 piece from the blog Natural~Specialty Foods Memo about one of Fresh & Easy's stores which will go in the low-income Oak Park neighborhood in Sacramento.

>September 23, 2008: Food Retailing, Society & Economics: 'Food Deserts' and Public Health

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I may be late to the discussion set forth here, but I am still wondering if Tesco does still plan to open a Fresh & Easy Store in Oak Park? And if so, when? Where will it get its products from? It seems fresh produce is what is lacking in neighborhoods without grocery stores...