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[whitespace] Council works on plans for Olson's land

Sunnyvale--Sunnyvale's last orchard may soon make way for 300 apartments and a mini strip mall if Sunnyvale city councilmembers approve an upcoming proposal for the C.J. Olson Cherries land.

Irvine Apartment Communities, the project's sponsor, presented council with preliminary plans for the development of the historic property at a special session April 20.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to review the project on May 24; City Council is set to decide whether to approve the plan on June 15.

Councilmembers voted last year to require that developers build residential units on 70 percent of the land and retail shops on the remaining 30 percent. Irvine architects kept that ratio in mind when hammering out the details of the development, which includes six one-story buildings, housing 300 apartments. The buildings include underground parking.

According to Gerri Caruso, associate planner for the city, the retail portion calls for two restaurants and seven shops in the parcel's northwest corner, which fronts El Camino Real and Mathilda Avenue.

The plan's creators budgeted in more than 1,000 parking spots between the commercial and residential structures.

To honor the 15-acre plot's historical significance, the developer has proposed planting cherry trees along the border of the entire development and reconstructing a cherry stand to serve in place of the existing one.

According to city planning regulations, new developments along El Camino require a 70-foot setback, which councilmembers may override so that the new stand will remain consistent with the original, which abuts the road.

Deborah Olson, a member of the fourth generation of orchardists, emphasized the importance of retaining some historical aspects of property, as they provide a living link to the past.

She said that the closure of the orchard, which was initiated by increasing taxes and a root disease in the trees, has been painful and emotional but inevitable.

"That's the nature of a fruit stand," she said. "Adapting to the times and changing with the times, the crops, and the seasons."

Irvine Apartment Communities' plan marks the farthest that any proposal has come in the Olson's nearly 15-year attempt to develop the piece of prime real estate. Councilmembers have not granted approval on any plans since the family first decided to develop it in 1985.

Caruso said the key problems with the Irvine group's plan were the design of the main commercial building and the placement of the cherry stand, which councilmembers would like to see appropriately incorporated into the site.

Councilmember Jack Walker raised questions about the landscaping of the development, requesting that other trees be used in addition to the cherry trees that would provide softness to the apartments that he called "a little too boxy for me."

"We'll have to take a lot of care with appropriate landscaping and treatment of the space that feels right when you're in there," Caruso said, adding that city staff seemed positive about the plans.

"In general, we're pretty pleased with where this is headed and with the ornamental orchard trees running along the side to indicate the agricultural heritage."
Kelly Wilkinson

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