Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Planners seek early OK for Green Valley Plaza project

Planners seek early OK for Green Valley Plaza project
By Ben Antonius | Daily Republic | November 16, 2009 19:33
FAIRFIELD - What's at Suisun Valley Road and Business Center Drive right now is an expanse of dirt and asphalt, landscaped with weeds and trash.

What's proposed is an major shopping complex, one that would rival anything in Fairfield save Westfield Solano mall.

But don't say goodbye to the weeds just yet -- it's all still several years away.

Nevertheless, the Fairfield Planning Commission will weigh in Wednesday on a proposal for a 465,000-square-foot Green Valley Plaza shopping center. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday in the City Council chamber at 1000 Webster St.

'The city couldn't begin to tell you when we seriously expect groundbreaking to begin because so much of when this project moves forward depends on the retail market,' planner Dave Feinstein said.

In a somewhat unorthodox step, the commission will be asked to give a tentative go-ahead to a project that is still in the 'idea' stage.

Doing the work early also removes some of the commitment risk, an advantage as the developer works to land premium businesses, Feinstein wrote in a report. 'To the degree that the city can complete environmental review as early as possible, the more likely that national tenants will commit to building and/or leasing space at the center,' he wrote.

When Fairfield approved a Wal-Mart Supercenter in late 2006, so much of the detail work was done that planning commissioners and City Council members knew what color the walls would be and the spacing of trees in the parking lot.

In contrast, planning commissioners will be asked Wednesday to give a similar certification without knowing what retailers will be brought in or where the cars will go.

'There is enough information out there to give us a good sense of what the impacts of developing that site will be,' Feinstein said. 'Traffic impacts, runoff impacts or economic impacts are really separate issues from what do the buildings look like and where are they located. We can make very reasonable assumptions about what those impacts will be simply by knowing what the maximum development will be on the site.'

There are also built-in protections to ensure that Fairfield does not get stuck with a funky or impractical design, Feinstein said.

Once a final layout is ready and architectural drawings have been prepared, the item would have to go back to the commission. At that point, the plug could still be pulled if significant problems appear.

Other questions remain, some of which will not truly be answered until the customers arrive.

Adding all that retail space could badly hurt a market already suffering from several large retail vacancies, Suisun City Community Development Director April Wooden wrote in a letter to city leaders.

The Green Valley Plaza project is not unprecedented in size, but it is larger than most local retail developments. For comparison, the Nut Tree Village shopping center in Vacaville is about 330,000 square feet.

'Given the magnitude of these vacancies in a down economy, a real concern exists regarding the potential for this project to result in the additional closures of area businesses,' Wooden wrote.

She did not return calls Monday for comment.

The project has been in the works for the better part of a decade. The Terminal Stations truck stop sat at the intersection from 1966 to 2003, when bulldozers knocked down the last dilapidated remnants of Jason's Coffee and its fellow establishments. In January 2005, the Planning Commission agreed to rezone 30 acres from industry and business park to commercial.

Reach Ben Antonius at 427-6977 or bantonius@dailyrepublic.net.