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The battle was on!

A group had proposed an acre-sized Safeway (43,000 square feet) south of town off Vidovich Avenue.

After doing a survey which showed that 53% of the town favored a Safeway east of town and that 67% of the town felt the current 22,000-square-foot Safeway was cramped and overly crowded, Safeway felt they were acceding to the town’s wishes, and entered into an option agreement to buy the Daly property on Adams Street.

The clincher, back in 1992, was that the city-hired firm, Wallace Roberts and Todd, had recommended that the entire 5.7-acre Adams Street parcel be zoned commercial.

The kicker was that the new General Plan called for a limit of 10,000 square feet on all commercial buildings. Safeway originally wanted a store of over 50,000 square feet. Virtually no one in town was in favor of that.

A new group, Citizens for St. Helena, gathered over 3,000 signatures. Many merchants feared the competition of a flower shop, a bakery, a pharmacy, a deli etc. all under one roof. Countless letters to the editor (pro and con), appeared almost weekly. Full-page ads protesting the project appeared in the Star.

The Council split two to two (David Hietz had recused himself) and the zoning line which split the parcel remained — half would be commercial and half Ag.

In November 1993, Safeway bailed on the project.

In 1994 Councilwoman Dorothy Gard called me and asked if the Dalys would be willing to sell or lease the commercial part of the property to the city for “offices.” She told me they were looking at other parcels: (What is now) 999 Adams Street, Morrison’s Funeral Parlor (next to Lyman Park), and Pine Street.

The Star erroneously printed that the Dalys had made a “surprise offer” to the city. Gene Armstead corrected the error with a letter stating that the city had approached the Dalys and not vice versa.

Safeway took another crack. They ultimately reduced the store’s size to 36,000 square feet.

They even proposed a St. Helena Village Square where local serving retail, Roman’s shoe repair shop, a dry cleaners, Ralph’s Barber shop, etc. could rent at below market rates for 10 years. They envisioned a European-style village square with restaurant and only local serving retail as neighbors.

In 1999 the Planning Commission refused to certify the EIR. Safeway threw in the towel. They would assign their option to someone else.

In July 2000, Safeway offered their option to purchase the property for $3.2 million to the town. It meant a $40,000 instant payment. Mayor Ken Slavens was game, but not sure the nonprofits (mainly the Boys and Girls Club) could come up with the rest of the $3.2 million purchase price by the September due date.

Unable to sell the option to the City, on July 18, Safeway withdrew from the contract.

We then contacted some potential buyers and two submitted offers.

Mayor Slavens was not to be denied, and he signed a purchase agreement to buy the property for $3 million, and agreed that they name a fountain, plaza or something after John Daly in recognition of his family’s donation of over an acre to the city where the Library sits today.

The donation (then valued at $400,000) equates to almost $2 million in today’s dollars.

Despite reports that the price was $2.5 million, escrow closed in December at $3 million. Rather than rely on nonprofits to come up with the money, the City used the Carnegie Building and City Hall as collateral.

On Nov. 23, 2000 the Star reported that the planning commission had approved the EIR for expanding the current Safeway from 22,000 square feet to 31,100 square feet. The battle was over. Or so we thought.

After last month’s June meeting, the Star quoted my friend, Anthony Micheli, “The city bought the property from Virginia Daly for half of market rate with the understanding that it be reserved for the community. It would be a “travesty” for the council to sell it, he said.” This could be interpreted that there was an “understanding” between my aunt and the city.

The parcel was NEVER sold at a reduced price. There was never an “understanding.”

My aunt and uncle made no demands upon the city. The city could do with it what they wanted — commercial or a City Center.

I doubt the city was ever thinking of buying that land with the hopes of selling it and making a profit 20 years later. In fact, an editorial, dated Feb. 8, 2001, mentions all the possible community uses which were discussed, and makes no mention of ever selling it for profit.

It is up to the City Council whether to use the land for community purposes, or to sell it for commercial purposes. But in making their decision, they should not assume there is a moral imperative involved regarding my aunt’s intentions. There simply wasn’t.

The Safeway saga started in the ’60s.

Times have changed. Finances have changed. Attitudes have changed. The importance of TOT taxes have changed.

What has not changed, apparently, is the constant debate over what should happen to the Adams Street parcel.

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Editor’s Note: The first part of the series ran on June 27, and the second ran on July 11.

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