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San Antonio Center: We Can Do Better

A new development proposal for San Antonio Center isn't what it appears.

With the city's redeveloped Castro Street, the priming of for a facelift and talk about a , there's just one major challenge remaining—San Antonio Center.

In its , the shopping center was the place to buy attractive wares and helped fill city coffers. Over time, tenants and their tax dollars have drifted to nearby cities.

As part of Mountain View's General Plan update, the city is exploring ways to refresh the complex with housing and shops that face streets. The General Plan visioning report describes the new experience more as it would a downtown than a typical strip-shopping mall.

As the city developed concepts for a renewed San Antonio Center, a developer came forward with plans to redevelop a 16-acre slice of the 50-plus-acre site. 

At first glance, the new project seems fresh and innovative. There's a main street design that bisects the project with a new greenway bordered by a mix of shops and housing. The architecture is characterized by earth-toned building materials populated with different textures and small-scale details. 

However, when you look a little closer, the design doesn't look so great. First, the project frontage along El Camino Real will be inactive and dead. The storefronts are planned to face the interior parking lot, which directs all foot traffic away from El Camino Real.

While directing foot traffic away from El Camino Real may seem like a good idea today, the multi-city Grand Boulevard Initiative aims to transform El Camino Real into an active, walkable street. This type of transformation will not happen with strip-mall-style development proposed in this project.

Second, this project is located a quarter of a mile from VTA's future Bus Rapid Transit stop on El Camino Real and Showers Drive. With buses running every 10 minutes in dedicated lanes, this site is the perfect opportunity to create a place that encourages transit use and walkable access to El Camino Real.

Unfortunately, proposed single-story strip development fronts the major pedestrian links along El Camino Real to the new Bus Rapid Transit stop, rather than transit-supportive multi-use buildings.

Finally, this design will set a precedent for the redevelopment of the entire center.

Over the years, the center has grown in a fragmented fashion, because of its multiple property owners and lack of cohesive planning. If this project is built as designed, the developers, not Mountain View citizens, will define the accepted planning principles for future redevelopment.

If you're concerned about the current design, make your voice heard at the Environmental Planning Commission hearing for the project at City Hall on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Kristine December 15, 2010 at 07:09 PM
Maybe they put the grocery store at the other end of the development and extend the gridlike development up front and have stores facing the outer sidewalk . I approve of a rethink by the way.
Marty Pulvers December 16, 2010 at 08:28 AM
This may be putting the cart before any horses, but I think it would be nice if Mt. View could attract a few non-chain restaurants of a higher quality than we see on Castro St. or elsewhere in the city. Even Santana Row's restaurants are chain restaurants, and of no great appeal. Why does one have to travel to S.F. or Berkeley/Oakland to see owner-operated, high quality, sanely priced eateries? With some effort, perhaps a new San Antonio Center could attract a few such restaurateurs.
Kristine December 17, 2010 at 09:48 PM
You know what, the Safeway may be main limiter of the project. We may have to cut it loose. San Antonio is not suffering a grocery shortage to justify it. If it were a movie theatre it be a little more tolerated. Though I would still rather have a parking garage next to it so that the outer sidewalk can be developed to it's proper potential.. Letting it go also may allow future grocery store's at downtown and middlefield thrive better.
Jarrett Mullen December 23, 2010 at 08:09 AM
Kristine, Safeway and Rite Aid are likely the forces behind the large surface parking lots and other design elements that aren't so hot. Safeway's willing to design more traditional urban stores in cities where space is at a premium, but when the land's available, they regress to big parking lots and setbacks which isn't very appealing. While we can't control what retailers the developer chooses, we have some power to influence the overall design because they're asking for lots of variances from the existing precise plan. For example, the current San Antonio Precise Plan prohibits housing and drive-through retail, but the developer wants several hundred apartments and a drive through pharmacy. These are major changes to the San Antonio area and residents of Mountain View should decide how these changes will be accommodated, not this developer.
Kristine December 24, 2010 at 03:05 AM
San Antonio center around seven has grocer related stores that not counting the current safeway. There are three grocery stores being planned nearby too. We don't need Safeway at all really, but the current location of our towns only movie theatre is eyed at as among the parcels being considered in the north bay shore plans. I can't think of anywhere else in town that could accommodate a movie theatre as well as here. That and a movie theatre would be a much more powerful draw for the rest of the stores. So I'm pretty confident in my opinion.

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