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Safeway First

news1 safewayThe city of Scotts Valley inches closer to a new market in their Town Center project

In the center of Scotts Valley, a large empty lot sits idly, as it has for decades. Various visions for the space have come and gone through the years without result, but in the not-too-distant future, the void in Scotts Valley could finally become its allure: a town center.

“It’s the last piece to a puzzle that we’ve been putting together for years,” says Scotts Valley Vice Mayor Dene Bustichi. “What we want to create is a very pedestrian-friendly, easy-to-navigate downtown area. We’ve done that with the transit center, the library, the community center—and what I think is the best park in Santa Cruz County—the Skypark, and all of that is in within a quarter of a mile or less. And in the center—what I think would be the crown jewel—would be our town center. It would give us a public, walkable area that people can enjoy.”

For more than 20 years, the idea of constructing a town center in the space where the Sky Park Airport once operated between Mount Hermon Road and Kings Village Road has been debated by city officials, residents and developers.

According to Scotts Valley Mayor Jim Reed, there have been three historical factors inhibiting the Town Center project from becoming a reality. A pair of industrial-sized propane tanks once lay near the site for more than 10 years, but were ultimately relocated. Other obstacles have included the high price of the land on the proposed site, and the relatively small population of Scotts Valley.

“We don’t have the same options in terms of attracting retail tenants that you have in Santa Clara or San Jose,” says Reed.

Bustichi says another obstacle was uniting all of the individual land parcels within the proposed Town Center site.

But with the recent purchase of land parcels from the City of Santa Cruz Property Development Centers (PDC), the Town Center project may finally come to fruition. In the coming months, PDC is expected to develop and pitch a proposal to the city of Scotts Valley.

A partner of Safeway, PDC first showed interest in the Scotts Valley Town Center project at a 2012 shopping center conference, which Bustichi attended. Bustichi admits that he was skeptical of the PDC initially, but after meeting with them at the end of the conference, he began to seriously consider bringing PDC on board.

“We actually toured about 10 Safeway stores in the Bay Area, and what I saw was a different product at every location,” says Bustichi. “I saw stores that looked different, and architecture that looked different—some of the architecture I didn’t care for—but what I did see is that they wanted to build something that fit into each community.”

Scotts Valley and PDC entered into a pre-development agreement in December 2012. After acquiring the land from the City of Santa Cruz and other landowners over the course of 2013, PDC held a series of well-attended public outreach meetings this past summer.

While many city residents are generally excited for the Town Center project, a handful of small business owners near the current Safeway worry about what will happen with the building if Safeway moves out. Merchants have suggested that the next retailer might not draw as much foot traffic as a grocery store.

“I’m hoping it won’t affect my business, but I have no idea,” says Raelyn D’Amelio, owner of the Little People’s Store, which shares a parking lot with Safeway. “I would like them not to move, but I don’t have any control over that. If I had my choice I would definitely want them to stay in this parking lot.”

Bustichi and fellow City Councilmember Stephany Aguilar also share concerns about the fate of the existing Safeway store on Mount Hermon Road, just several hundred feet from the proposed Town Center site.

“I did talk to PDC recently via phone, saying I had my concerns for the relinquishing of the lease on the property so that another market could come in, like a Trader Joe’s, when Safeway relocates,” says Aguilar.

In an email to GT, Tom Fitzpatrick, development manager with PDC, was unspecific about what’s next for the building where Safeway currently resides. “Safeway owns its building and will sublease the property to one or more retail tenants, each of which would add diversity and depth to the retail landscape in Scotts Valley,” Fitzpatrick writes.

Bustichi wants to be as cautious as possible about which retailers and restaurants would go into the Town Center.

“While there’s only so much we can do as a council, and we don’t want to restrict the free market, in this case, we do want to do our best to protect local businesses so that what does come into the Town Center is different,” he says.

Aguilar has also voiced concerns regarding the residential units that will accompany the Safeway anchor store and various shops. As a councilmember, she has made it clear to PDC that she believes it should build affordable, or “workforce housing units,” in the Town Center.

“Generally, the way that development is put together, they build the housing first because it pays for the retail element, and my concern is that they will build housing all around it and not above it. I was looking more for housing above the retail,” says Aguilar. “It’s a different market niche of housing that will allow for a diversity of professions to afford to live in Scotts Valley.”

At this stage, PDC is composing a specific plan for the space, which Bustichi hopes to see at the start of 2015, but the PDC does not have an official completion date for the plan. Once the council and the public are able to scrutinize the proposal, a final agreement could be struck with PDC, and Scotts Valley may finally get its Town Center.

Hopes are high for the new Safeway in the city council, but after experiencing a series of starts and stops on the project in the past, councilmembers remain cautiously optimistic as it moves forward.

“This could easily be the most significant project in Scotts Valley for a generation or more, both in terms of its size and the impact it could have on our quality of life” says Reed. “That means it’s really important to get it right.” PHOTO: Vice Mayor Dene Bustichi is supporting a project to create a town center with a brand new Safeway.  KEANA PARKER

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