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[whitespace] Planners OK Andronico's despite residents concerns

Oaks Theater slated for closure, demolition

Cupertino--Residents continued to voice their support to keep The Oaks movie theater intact at The Oaks Shopping Center at a June 12 hearing, but officials told them that they were barking up the wrong tree.

Despite neighbors' concerns and opposition, the Cupertino Planning Commission approved a use permit for Andronico's grocery to build a 32,000-square-foot store at the center.

Developers plan to demolish the theater and build the upscale grocery store with 496 parking spaces in its place. They also propose housing a cooking school in the store.

Residents presented commissioners with a petition of more than 1,000 names of theater patrons who do not want to see their movie house demolished for the grocery store. The theater faithful say they see the Oaks theater as a last venue for inexpensive cinematic entertainment and a community focal point. "Without it, we'd lose something we don't have anywhere else," said Cupertinian Karen Jacobson.

Though commissioners were sympathetic to the neighbors' concerns, they said selecting which businesses can move to The Oaks does not fall in their jurisdiction. "This is not our job as the Planning Commission to make the determination if we want a theater or not. This is a philosophical issue and you need to go to the City Council," said commission chairwoman Andrea Harris.

Commissioners in earlier hearings said they'd like to see a compromise in which both the theater and the grocery could exist side by side. However, Chris Hittig, the attorney for Chicago-based Urban Retail Property, the owner of the center, said accommodating both businesses at The Oaks would not be feasible.

"The theater has been notified that the owner was going to terminate the lease. The decision has been weighed by the owner to put in a grocery store at the site," he said.

Officials have agreed to talk to the De Anza College Flint Center about the possibility of incorporating inexpensive movies into the Flint Center, or other De Anza College, entertainment programs.

In addition to objecting to the loss of the movie theater, some residents also said they fear their neighborhoods will be impacted by additional traffic. City traffic engineers met with residents at a neighborhood forum two weeks ago to discuss those worries.

Andronico's latest proposal debuted at last week's meeting. At that time the developers agreed to lengthen the throat of the westerly driveway entrance on Stevens Creek Boulevard, in order to mitigate potential backups on the street. However, residents still contend that a backup is inevitable because drivers entering the shopping center must vie for the same lane as those getting onto Highway 85.

Ray Chong, the city's traffic engineer, said that the neighbors have a valid point. The city's staff will look into posting new traffic signs along the boulevard beginning at Stelling Road to make directions more clear to drivers, he said.

Chong also said Andronico's would create a minimal impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. He estimated that the store will generate 77 trips during a weekday evening peak hour and a 5 percent increase in neighborhood traffic. Some residents seemed skeptical of those figures, but Chong said the numbers were estimates derived from national statistical data.

Not everyone was convinced. "Those numbers were pretty flaky," said city resident Tony Vandersteen. He plans to talk with the council and the shopping center's owner about the demolition of the theater. But he admits that he hasn't progressed very far.

"It's like we're talking to a brick wall, and it's going nowhere," he said. "And we've gotten no interest from the city."

The Andronico's proposal is slated for the council agenda on June 19.
Michele Leung

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