WALNUT CREEK -- When it comes to development projects, almost any project has its critics. But nobody, it seems, doesn't like the planned multimillion dollar renovation of the Encina Grande shopping center on Ygnacio Valley Road at Oak Grove Road.

"I'm all for it. Right now, the shopping center looks like the 'land that time forgot,' " said Wiget Lane resident Cosette Mitchell. "It's hardly changed since we moved here in 1978."

Citrus Heights resident Kathy Rogers had similar views. "It's about time they spiffed it up." It's been looking kind of rough for years, she said as she pointed out the worn cracked asphalt in the parking lot and the faded paint.

Rocco Biale, owner of Rocco’s Pizza, is photographed at his restaurant in the Encina Grande shopping center in Walnut Creek, Calif. on Tuesday, Jan.
Rocco Biale, owner of Rocco's Pizza, is photographed at his restaurant in the Encina Grande shopping center in Walnut Creek, Calif. on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013. The Encina Grande center will soon undergo a renovation that promises to modernize the center's dated look. (Kristopher Skinner/Staff)

The planned upgrade calls for new matching architect-designed facades for all the buildings and a redesigned pedestrian-friendly parking lot with walkways and improved traffic flow.

"The look will be a modern interpretation of American craftsman style," explained Alan Carreon, the City of Walnut Creek staff planner working on the project. Craftsman-style emphasizes natural materials and was first popularized in Northern California in the early 1900s by Julia Morgan and Bernard Maybeck.

"It is a positive change. The appearance of the center will have better form and more interesting materials instead of a mishmash of 60s, 70s and 90s architecture."

Other aesthetic improvements Carreon noted include planting more than 100 new trees, including crepe myrtle, Chinese pistache and ornamental pear, to replace 25 mature oak, camphor, hackberry and ash trees to be removed when the parking lot is reconfigured. Some trees are being removed to accommodate "passive infiltration basins" the help clean stormwater runoff, as mandated by the county's Clean Water Program.

The biggest change will be Safeway's anticipated move from its current anchor location in the center to a now-undeveloped parcel Safeway owns directly across Ygnacio Valley Road. Another major grocery store is expected to move into the renovated Safeway space.

The existing Walgreens will move to the Oak Grove Road side of the center, where a new drive-up pharmacy window with customers able to enter and exit from Oak Grove. The other businesses, including Ace Hardware, Rocco's Ristorante Pizzeria and Applebee's, will retain their current positions within the center.

Rocco Biale, owner of Rocco's, a favorite dining spot for local families and sports teams, said the center's merchants welcome the project even if there will undoubtedly be some disruptions when construction gets underway.

"It is long overdue for a face-lift. It is a dated center, that's no mystery," said Biale. "And it is going to be a lot more than minor tweaking; there's going to be some heavy lifting."

Biale said he is part of a group of shopping center business owners who meet about the project periodically with key staff from Regency Centers, the company that owns the Encina Grande Center. Regency also owns the nearby Ygnacio Plaza as well as the Clayton Valley Shopping Center. Nationwide, Regency owns and operates 347 grocery-anchored shopping centers.

"When it gets closer to shovel-in-the-ground time, they will gather us and give us an update," Biale said.

The shovels will be in the ground during the first quarter of 2014, according to Regency Centers Senior Vice President for Northern California Doug Shaffer. He expects the project to be completed by the end of 2014. Plans are for the company to then renovate the Ygnacio Plaza shopping center.

Regency acquired the Encina Grande in 1996, but was in no hurry to redo the shopping center because it was thriving as is.

"It's hard to justify spending several million dollars when the center is doing well," said Shaffer. "But Safeway looking to move across the street gave us the opportunity to do something different with the center. And it won't cost the taxpayers or the tenants a dime."

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