Close your eyes and imagine this: a new building in downtown Orinda across from the library and community center that is home to several retail and restaurant offerings. A place with adequate (and out of sight) rooftop parking. The businesses are immediately adjacent to the sidewalk, and store fronts boast giant bi-fold doors which open fully to allow for an active and engaging experience. Dining al fresco in downtown Orinda? Maybe in the near future.
This is the experience that developers Dana and Paul Ugenti of Tandem Real Estate Company hope to bring to Orinda. It's no wonder that both the planning commission and community members expressed their pleasure following Mr. Ugenti's presentation at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, December 8th.
The commission praised that the building incorporated rooftop parking and maximized use of a narrow lot. The five community members who opted to speak were in favor for the plan, with a caveat, or two.
This was a study session, the purpose of which was to hear initial concepts and provide feedback, and as such, both the planning commission and the community had the opportunity to voice concerns and strong objections to the design of the building presented by the architect, Dave Johnson of Johnson Lyman Architects. Commissioner Katherine Hearey Faix went as far as to say that the structure looked like the type of "banal" buildings one might see in Walnut Creek. Ouch.
Both the commission and the commenters encouraged the developer to revise the design of the building to capture more of the "charm" and "village" feel that Orinda strives for. This, of course, means different things to different people. Some want the project to tie into the Vintage House aesthetic, while others wanted it to mirror the theater and library's art deco style. Spanish anyone, to work back to the Community Center, Orinda Motors, Orinda Country Club and many other nostalgic buildings in Orinda? Others still suggested that it could marry several of the the styles of architecture seen in Orinda Village in a way that suggests that the building grew organically over time. Just don't suggest Traditional style as Mr. Johnson did, only to be told that Traditional isn't a style, it's actually an adjective used to describe several styles of architecture.
All-in-all, everyone who voiced an opinion at last night's session seemed enthusiastic about many aspects of this proposal. The developer reiterated that project he presented was an initial concept and his group is very open to input and design changes.
Next steps for the project, TBD. Let's hope we see some revised plans in the new year. As vice chair Michael Hoeffel pointed out, if this project moves forward, this would be the first new commercial development on the Village side of Orinda since the town was incorporated in 1985.