Going to Bethlehem

It has been a while, but in the last couple of days a new development project was submitted to Redwood City, and it’s a nice one. A 94-unit fully affordable (at the “Low” income level, which corresponds to 80% of the Area Median Income, or AMI) for-rent apartment building, for a site I’ve been watching for some time now. This site:

In case you don’t recognize this lot, which sits at the corner of Middlefield Road and Cassia Street, perhaps a different view will help:

Yes, this is the empty lot that, every year at Christmas time, is transformed into a recreation of the ancient city of Bethlehem, complete with costumed characters and live animals. Bethlehem A.D., which is put on by Rise City Church, will rise once again this year, on December 21, 22 and 23 from 6 – 9:30 p.m. But unless the church has an alternate location, it appears that this year’s performance may be its last: the project to build affordable housing on this lot will be on the fast track, at least as far as approval goes, and thus shouldn’t take nearly as long as the typical development project to get underway.

Here is a rendering of what the final development could look like:

This seven-story “Rise City” building will have two internal parking levels, on the ground and second floors. To make the most of the limited footprint, the ground-floor parking level will be entered and exited from Cassia Street, while the second floor parking will be accessed from Middlefield Road. Cars won’t be able to transit directly from one level to the other, thus eliminating the need for a space-consuming internal ramp. However, even with this clever bit of space savings, the internal garage will only accommodate 48 cars — just about one car per two apartments. Because this is a low-income housing project, though, this is allowed. Fortunately, downtown Redwood City is a few short blocks away, and Costco isn’t much farther (but in the opposite direction, of course). The walk from this site to Redwood City’s transit station is probably too long for most, but I’ll note that there is a SamTrans bus stop right in front of where the building will stand; buses that stop there service the transit station. Oh, and although there is limited vehicular parking, the building includes a large bike storage area designed to securely hold 94 bicycles.

As for the apartments themselves, the current design shows 42 studios, 33 one-bedroom units, and 19 with two bedrooms (but only one bathroom). All of the apartments will be located on floors 2 – 7; the ground floor, in addition to one level of parking (and the bicycle storage area), will have the building’s lobby, management offices, the mailroom, various utility rooms (including a trash room; trash chutes on the upper floors will lead to this room), and a “flex space.” As for private outdoor spaces, the plans show a community garden and an outdoor “gathering space” on the back side of the building at ground level, plus a small terrace on the second floor, a large outdoor patio area on the third floor (complete with outdoor kitchen, “kids-friendly leisure area,” and three “workspace & overlook areas” — really, just tables and chairs — that look out over the back of the building), and, on the seventh floor, a small landscaped terrace that looks out over the intersection of Middlefield Road and Cassia Street.

The third floor also incudes a large laundry room (that appears to serve the entire building), a computer lab, and a nice-sized community room.

The building’s design is interesting: above the second floor there are two separate rectangular towers, one that stands parallel to Middlefield Road and one that parallels Cassia Street. Connecting the two are a set of glass-enclosed bridges. So while at an angle the project looks like one monolithic building from the intersection (as shown in the previous rendering), when viewed head-on from Middlefield Road it should look a bit different:

As for that black panel looming over the building, that is billed as a “solar PV trellis.” Other areas where PV (photovoltaic, or solar electric) panels could go are marked out on the plans for the rooftops of the two buildings, although it isn’t entirely clear whether those panels will be installed at the onset, or whether those are just spaces where someone could put panels someday. Hopefully it is the former: the more panels there are providing power offsetting what is used within the building, the better, as far as I am concerned.

I made allusion to the fact that this project is on the fast track (or likely will be); that is due to the fact that it apparently qualifies for expedited approval under Senate Bill 35, which became law in 2017. Once the clock starts ticking, which I’m guessing will occur either once the project application is deemed complete (it is not, as yet), or possibly once it has completed the Environmental and Design Review stage, the city then has 60 days to approve (or not, I guess) the project. As you can imagine, this twist on the usual process will have me watching this project’s approval process with interest.

94 units of low-income housing will be a great addition to Redwood City’s housing stock, but of course this isn’t the only fully affordable housing project in the works. Two others — projects that I’ve written about before — are currently underway: the 38-unit (plus one for the building’s manager) apartment building swiftly rising at the corner of El Camino Real and Jackson Avenue, and the 125-unit (including one for the manager) apartment building nearing completion at 353 Main St.

Although it still lacks its exterior surfaces, the building on El Camino Real, which is being constructed as part of the nearby ELCO Yards project, has achieved its final form:

This building will consist of 33 studio apartments and five one-bedroom units (the manager’s apartment, which will be located on the second floor overlooking the intersection, will have two bedrooms). Like the Rise City project, this building will have a limited amount of parking: 12 spaces in total. And even those can’t fit in without the use of mechanical stackers: five of the parking spaces will be doubled up using these machines. The remainder of the ground floor seems a lot like the Rise City building, only in miniature. It will have a lobby, a community room, two offices, a trash room, and various utility spaces. This building will sport a single elevator (Rise City will have two) and two stairwells. As for common outdoor space, in this building that is limited to a 1,738-square-foot roof deck, complete with an outdoor kitchen.

The 38 for-rent units in this fully affordable building will, I believe, serve resident households at a mix of income levels, from Low (80% AMI) to Extremely Low (30% AMI). As for the manager’s unit, it, too, may be affordable, but I don’t yet know at what level.

Finally, the 125-unit building over on Main Street, just north of Veterans Boulevard, is really coming along nicely:

As you can see, much of the building’s exterior is complete. Although some work on the outside continues, much of the work is now concentrated on the building’s interior.

The above view shows what the building looks like from Veterans Boulevard (well, from the parking lot behind the Carl’s Jr. restaurant). End-on, from Main Street, it isn’t quite so imposing (but still very attractive):

Personally, I’m waiting for the landscaping to be installed. The rear of this building lies along Redwood Creek, and one of the final stages for this building is to install the public path — part of the Redwood Creek trail that currently runs behind the Township Apartments building you can just see along the left edge of the above picture — between this new building and the creek. This week I walked back to the Township segment of the trail, and peeked over the fence into the area where that new bit of trail will run. For now, of course, it is just dirt:

Soon, though, we’ll have a 14-foot-wide public trail (a 10 foot concrete path flanked by two feet of decomposed granite on either side) extending from where I am standing to the parking lot behind the Carl’s Jr. and the Supreme Crab restaurant. It won’t be very lengthy, but it will be yet another link in the chain that someday, hopefully, will form a continuous path from the downtown public library out to where the creek forks east of Highway 101.

Getting back to the apartment building itself, it, too, will have a two-level internal parking garage. Unlike with the other projects, though, this garage will have more spaces than there are apartments in the building: 182 spaces for cars, 10 for motorcycles, and 42 “bicycle racks.” And here, the 125 apartments will also skew towards larger sizes: there will be 15 studios, 57 one-bedroom units, and 53 two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments.

Open space will be provided on three levels: almost 7,000 square feet on the third floor (above the garage) that includes seating, an outdoor kitchen, and a “spool” (a spa/pool); a rooftop deck on the Main Street-end of the building (the building is six stories high on the Main Street end, and seven stories high on the end closer to the creek); and nearly 19,000 square feet of landscaped space around the building’s perimeter (primarily, between this building and the neighboring Township building, and between this building and the creek) with scattered seating and possibly some outdoor recreational facilities. This ground-floor outdoor space also includes the trail I am so looking forward to seeing.

353 Main Street will serve a mix of residents: 63 of the 125 for-rent apartments will be designated for households earning at the Extremely Low (30% AMI) level, while 61 of them will be for households at the Low (80% AMI) level. Qualifications for the manager’s apartment (which brings the total to 125) are not specified.

Assuming that the Rise City project is approved, together these three buildings will add 258 new housing units at varying levels of affordability to Redwood City’s stock of housing. That still isn’t enough to meet demand, of course, but it is impressive nevertheless. And those are just three fully affordable buildings: a number of other projects in the works contain a mix of market-rate and affordable units (including ELCO Yards, which has affordable units in one of its other apartment buildings as well). But I do hope (and anticipate) that the Rise City project will be approved: I’m tickled by the idea of an affordable housing project being constructed where Bethlehem once stood.


Tomorrow (Saturday, October 1) is PortFest: that annual community celebration and waterfront festival put on by the Port of Redwood City each year on the first Saturday in October. This is a free, and very family-friendly, event: there will be boat tours, live music, a variety of recreational activities for kids, food trucks, vendor booths, and what promises to be a beautiful day along the waters of the San Francisco Bay. PortFest runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; just head over to Seaport Court to join in the fun. If you’ve never been out there, there is no better time to acquaint yourself with the port, which is one of Redwood City’s crown jewels.