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Are we guided by lack of vision?

March 26, 2017

There has been quite a bit of discussion on Nextdoor recently about a proposal to spiff up the retail shopping center at the NE corner of Watt and Arden. The property is owned by Merlone Geier, a real estate development company HQed in San Francisco, with an office in Rancho Cordova. The firm, which is "focused on the acquisition, development and redevelopment of retail and retail-driven mixed-use properties", has proposed the "Arden Creek Town Center" "adjacent to affluent neighborhoods". That proposal would have new retail spaces along the Arden Way frontage where Lam's restaurant used to be, some cosmetic changes to the main PetsMart/Smart&Final/RiteAid building and the addition of two buildings close to Watt Avenue, each with drive-through window functionality. Buildings on the southern corners of the property (the bank on the SW corner and the chiropractor's office on the SE corner) are not being redesigned. As might be expected, the proposal includes breaking the County's rules about sign height, landscaping and setbacks -- something state law and court decisions stipulate must be done very carefully even though the County routinely pays scant attention to the requirements of the law and the court decisions. The proposal has encountered opposition from area residents who are concerned about fast food restaurants, excessive signage and a sense of general ugliness. It was supposed to be considered at last week's CPAC meeting but was pulled from the agenda at the eleventh hour.  

This is an old land use movie that has been replayed time and again. The script goes something like this: shopping center "declines", developer seeks maximum profit from minimum investment by replicating what the community already has plenty of, County -- desperate for anything "new" -- accepts whatever developer proposes and presents the project to the community as more or less a "done deal", the impacted community objects to lack of prior consultation and demands something "better" i.e. "different".  Wouldn't it be interesting if local economic development was driven by an actual vision of what the community could, and should, become instead of just quiet acquiescence to any proposal that walks up to the building counter? What if the County's own Community Action Plan goals about shade trees, street landscaping, and re-use of vacant/run-down strip malls to allow a mix of residential, retail and commercial development (page 3) or about being responsive to neighborhoods (page 8) mattered? Improving neighborhoods and the community with the property owner's focus on retail-driven mixed use development -- imagine that! But, wait, in that same Community Action Plan the County said it needed to defer action that would, "more actively involve residents in the ongoing shaping of their community" (page 12). Apparently, then, now is not the time for "the vision thing". It never is, is it? These days the County's Neighborhood Livability Initiative has devolved into a residential weed control program. So please just sit there while the old land use movie is re-run. {...sigh...} Oh, well, perhaps there is some solace in this one being a "Town Center", not a "Towne Centre".

Proposed site plan. Building pads for tenants 35-37 and 40 are generic. No specific tenants have been determined as of March 2017. (Source: Merlone Geier)