It looks as if Draeger's in Menlo Park may be getting a new neighbor, and the family of grocers is worried it may have to relocate the area in which wares are moved in and out of the grocery store.
The Troglio family, which owns the vacant lot at the corner of Menlo Avenue and Evelyn Street adjacent to Draeger's, has proposed building a three-story mixed-use building at 840 Menlo Ave.
The designs for the building call for the main entrance to be placed on Evelyn Street – but that's also where the Draegers have, for the last 17 years or so, set up their loading zone for moving goods in and out of the grocery store.
At least six members of the Draeger family showed up with an attorney and a consultant at Monday's Planning Commission meeting (March 12) to present their case for keeping the loading zone on Evelyn Street, which would be right in the front of the new proposed building.
The conflict has been many years coming.
According to a staff report, Draeger's used to lease the lot as a loading zone, until the lease ended in 2001. In 2002, the Menlo Park City Council gave conditional approval to the grocer to use Evelyn Street until plans to develop the site were pursued, at which point the plan was to re-evaluate the loading zone.
Staff have recommended moving the loading zone to Menlo Avenue, though the move was not supported by the city's Complete Streets Commission. Staff say Menlo Avenue is still a viable option, according to Associate Planner Kaitie Meador.
The proposed building at 840 Menlo Ave. would be a total of 11,471 square feet, with 13 parking spots and a lobby on the ground floor, non-medical office space on the second floor, and three two-bedroom condominiums on the third floor that are intended for the owner's family members.
In public comments, Richard Draeger told commissioners that moving the loading zone would be "crippling to our 62-year-old business." He noted that the grocery store routinely reports more sales in an hour than there are parking spots, even in slow times of year, and insisted that people who shop at Draeger's often visit other downtown shops. If it's harder for customers to access the store because of limited parking, he said, it could translate to lost sales at the grocery store and other nearby shops.
Tony Draeger emphasized the value of Draeger's to the community and noted that locally based food purveyors are struggling against larger, international corporations. "Where is the Andronico's? Where's Beltramo's?" he asked. "Draeger's is only here today because we've been able to carve out a niche that serves the Menlo Park community."
"We can be marginalized by the decision you make," he said.
In response, Richard Poe, a consultant representing the owners of the proposed building, cited city documents indicating that the loading zone issue was supposed to be resolved "long, long, long ago."
Allowing the grocer to load and unload its wares in front of the new building on Evelyn Street would have adverse impacts to the project, he said.
The Planning Commission was permitted only to vote on the architectural designs for the project, which its members approved 6-1, with Commissioner John Onken opposed.
The matter of the loading zone is expected to be brought to the City Council in the future.