No one can say Safeway rushed to develop its Walnut Creek property on the northwest corner of Ygnacio Valley and Oak Grove roads. The supermarket giant has owned the 25-acre parcel for more than 30 years, and the only things rising from 11 of those acres have been trees and weeds.

But all things change.

A little more than a year ago, the company started dreaming of a bustling retail plaza anchored by a 55,000-square-foot supermarket. It all made so much sense. The aging Safeway store across the street in Encina Grande shopping center was nearing the end of its lease, and more space was needed for more amenities.

Trouble was, the parcel was in a business park and needed to be rezoned for retail, a move that could elicit pushback from nearby residents. That's when Walnut Creek made a clever decision. It persuaded Safeway to engage stakeholders -- residents, business owners and public officials -- to form the Shadelands Gateway Specific Plan Advisory Committee. (I said the idea was clever, not the name.)

Committee members were asked to draft a specific plan -- later simplified to "planning principles" -- with which Safeway would be expected to comply when it submitted design proposals to the city. The public was invited to participate.


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Give the committee credit for thoroughness. Monday's meeting was its 10th over nine months, which means it took about 10 times as long to write 11 planning principles as it took to write the Declaration of Independence.

Speed was never the object. Inclusiveness was. So the vision evolved from a retail plaza into a mixed-use project. A senior residence may be a component, as could a health club. Trees will be retained. There may be a park. Parking areas will be unobtrusive.

Suggestions (and concerns) were still being voiced Monday, when the 11 principles received their final review. About 100 people attended, 15 of whom shared their opinions during public comment.

Several students from Foothill Middle School, concerned over new construction, showed that they'd been paying attention during science class. They were worried about greenhouse gases emitted from vehicles used to transport building materials.

"That puts a hole in the ozone," one said. "If we have holes in the ozone, the ultraviolet rays will melt the ice cap, and you'll have another ice age. That will not be fun."

An adult speaker, less concerned about ice caps, wished Safeway would be more like it used to be and "increase the quality of the meat." Several meat eaters applauded.

Most seemed to embrace change, including committee members who buffed and polished the planning principles. They dissected the difference between "pedestrian friendly" and "walkable." They debated the distinction between "minimizing traffic impact" and "promoting traffic flow." Also receiving attention were "multimodal circulation" and "activity nodes."

They spent 10 minutes hashing out aspects of the "gateway" marker that will greet westbound drivers entering Walnut Creek. It should make a statement, one said. If there's a water feature, make it modestly sized. It should reflect the feel of open space. It should make you feel you've arrived. How about a yellow brick road? (Oops, that was my idea.)

There's no telling how residents will accept what comes of the project. But they can't say they weren't asked.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com