Time for a Checkup

In a comment to my post “It’s a Living“, reader “davethetallguy” noted that the small apartment building on the corner of Jefferson and Wilson had been boarded up. Because I hadn’t been by there recently, his comment got me thinking that it was time to check on the progress of a couple of ongoing projects around Redwood City. In between storms I managed to do just that, so I’m taking a brief break in my “How Low Can You Go” series to report on my findings. But before I start in on those, I should report on last week’s City Council meeting.

Redwood City’s City Council meets every other week, on Monday evenings. Their most recent meeting, on December 8, had a number of items that were of interest to me. First, there were three residential properties that had been proposed for Historic Landmark status (the City Council approved all three). I hadn’t given much though to landmarked homes in Redwood City before now, and this got me thinking that I should I dig up a list of them and then visit them. I’ve put this on my “to do” list and I’ll report my findings in a future post.

The second item of interest on the City Council meeting agenda regarded the YMCA. The Council approved a letter of intent between Redwood City and the YMCA in regards to a proposal that hopefully will result in the construction of an “intergenerational health, wellness, and recreational facility” at Red Morton Park. The details have yet to be worked out, but essentially the city and the YMCA intend to jointly build a new facility to replace the Veteran’s Memorial Senior Center (VMSC) at Red Morton. The YMCA will lease a portion of the facility and will move from its current location on Hudson (near Woodside Rd.) to this new facility. The City will retain control of the remainder of the facility, enabling it to continue providing programs for seniors, the disabled, veterans, and youth.

The third, and final item of interest on the City Council’s agenda involved an adjustment to the Maximum Allowable Development (MAD) limits spelled out in the Downtown Precise Plan, and was the primary reason I attended the meeting. I have written about these limits before: they control how much new development the plan allows within the downtown area in four categories: residential units, office space (square feet), retail space (square feet), and hotel rooms. The plan limits for each category were set back when the plan was originally written, but as development has progressed it is clear that the initial assumptions weren’t quite correct, and that there is more demand for some categories than for others. For instance, the plan originally limited new office space to 500,000 square feet. Projects currently under construction (including Crossing/900) plus those already approved total nearly 200,000 square feet. Additional office projects currently being proposed add up to much more than the remaining 300,000 square feet. Thus, as I concluded in Time for Some Commercials, either the original limit for office space needs to be increased or developers will have to be turned away. Turning them away would be fine, except that there has been much less demand for the other categories. For instance, of the 2,500 allowable new housing units in the downtown area, projects underway or approved add up to just under 1,400 units. As for retail, there has been little interest in net new retail space in Redwood City’s downtown (while some of the office and residential projects include do retail on their ground floors, that basically cancels out the retail that was lost when the buildings were constructed).

The city staff proposal to the Council was not to increase the overall new construction being allowed, but to simply allow for a shift between categories. Thus, the need for additional office space capacity could be made up by decreasing the allowable amount of new residential units and/or retail space. And the proposed ratios take into account traffic impact, so that decreasing new retail space in favor of increasing new office space shouldn’t adversely impact our (already not great) traffic situation. There were a number of residents on hand to speak out on this proposal; as you might guess most were against it, although there were one or two in favor of allowing the shift. And as I suspected going into the meeting, the City Council did indeed approve the MAD adjustments. So you can expect that some, if not all, of the downtown office projects I identified in Time for Some Commercials will indeed be built as proposed. The comments and the City Council’s discussion on the matter was fairly interesting. If you want to watch it for yourself, you can: go to the City Council Meetings page and click the “video” link for the Dec 8, 2014 meeting. Then, in the index on the left side of the window (below the video), scroll down to and click item 9B.

Enough on the City Council (for this post, at least!). I wanted to report on what I saw on my latest walk. First up, a project that I’ve been writing about since September of last year (first, in my post Broadway Bound): the 24-Hour Fitness is finally rising from the ground on Broadway, below Woodside (just past the main Redwood City post office). This project has been going on seemingly forever. I did a bit of digging and found permit filings from as far back as April 2013. Thus, in just four months—by which time this project will not yet be completed—it will have taken two full years to build a gym. As you can see, while the building will be by no means unattractive, it certainly doesn’t appear to be at all complex (and only the exterior walls are up as yet; currently there is neither a roof nor any interior walls):


Who knows what the holdup was? They do seem to be making good progress now, however, so someday soon this thing should be in operation.

Next up is a property I’ve been wondering about for a long, long time:


This is the vacant lot on El Camino Real between Mountain Mike’s (to the north) and the KFC (across Avondale Ave., to the south). This lot has been vacant for as long as I can remember—and in the city and county systems the property is indeed listed as “vacant”—although there are bits of concrete that indicate that the property might once have had a structure on it. As well, I found one indication that the property might be contaminated; perhaps there was a gas station here at one time? In any case, this lot has finally caught the interest of a developer, who is proposing to put twelve condos here. Given the size of the property—its not huge—the condos will apparently be packed together into a single structure. But the rendering that the developer has provided looks pretty nice:


Over in the downtown area, I’ve been wondering for a while now about Howie’s Artisan Pizza. If that doesn’t ring any bells, it is because it doesn’t exist yet. This is the name of the operation that will occupy the space that formerly housed Tarboosh. It is on Jefferson, across the street from the Century Theaters complex and adjacent to the little park by the Jefferson Post Office. Tarboosh has been gone for a couple of months now, and although the “Howie’s” sign was pasted up in the building’s windows shortly thereafter, there has been little sign of activity since then.


At least, there hadn’t been much activity until recently. On my walk this little addition caught my eye:


Howie’s will apparently have outdoor seating, which is always a good thing. After all, “Climate Best by Government Test,” right? Just to make sure I wasn’t crazy I checked the permits for this property and found some recent activity, so the project does appear to be progressing. Whether or not we need yet another pizza joint, I’m glad that this property won’t be empty for long.

On to 103 Wilson. This is the property about which “davethetallguy” commented, which caused me to take my walk and then write this post. Sitting on the corner of Wilson and Jefferson, kitty-corner from the Johnny Rockets—which has closed, incidentally!—this nondescript little apartment building is indeed boarded up. Here is the building’s main entrance:


The housing project that will occupy this property will consume more than just the little apartment building. It will also result in the demise of the little blue house next door (on Wilson):


In fact, the entire block will be razed and a seven-story 175-unit apartment building will be built on this site. I’ll write more on that when it gets underway, which likely won’t be until Elan Redwood City (the huge wooden thing looming over Redwood Trading Post) is complete; both projects are being built by the same developer. But I’ll wrap up this topic with a rendering of the building as it may appear when viewed from the corner of Jefferson and Middlefield (the Caltrain tracks are in the foreground of this rendering):


The last place I visited on my walk was a project that almost slipped under my radar. At 1410 Valota a developer has managed to squeeze five good-sized single-family homes onto a single deep lot that formerly contained just one 1,200 square foot home (two bedrooms, one bath!) You can see four of the five new homes in this picture I took as the sun was setting (click to enlarge):


Three of the five have already been sold, at least according to Zillow. The home in the front (on Valota) is still for sale, and is listed at $1,395,000. It is just over 2,000 square feet and has four bedrooms and 3½ bathrooms. The other house still for sale appears to be the second one in, with the stone facing on what I would guess is the living room. This house is slightly smaller—1,900 square feet, three bedrooms, 2½ bathrooms—yet the developer is asking the same price. Presumably this is due to the fact that this house doesn’t sit right on Valota, and is thus a bit more sheltered.

As the sun went down I walked home, thinking marveling at the number of projects underway throughout the city. They reflect the prosperity that the booming economy is bringing to a number of area residents, of course. But not all of us can afford to spend $1.4 million on a house (plus the $14,000 or so in annual property taxes). Maybe, just maybe, some of those 175 apartments that will be built at 103 Wilson will be set aside for lower-income folks. Let’s hope…

13 thoughts on “Time for a Checkup

  1. Howie’s has another location at Town & Country Shopping Center in Palo Alto. Previously, he had a popular restaurant in Menlo Park and lives in the Mt, Carmel neighborhood.

    • Thanks for letting me know. We tried it (the T&C store) the other day and really liked it. I also talked to our server about the Redwood City location and will report on it shortly.

  2. Great review of what is happening. How about an update on that site over by the Franklin Apartments that has been sitting for years.

    • I’ve been watching that site for a long time. Regretfully, the project slated for that location seems to have fallen off the city’s list, although there is still an outstanding permit marked “under review” for the site. It was slated to be a 114-bed skilled nursing facility providing both short-term and long-term care named “Lathrop PARC”, but the lack of progress makes me think it is probably dead. It was partially financed by HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development); perhaps the money didn’t come through.

      Oh, and thanks for the comment!

  3. Greg, thank you for the great blog. I’ve been trying to find a decent resource for the area’s growth and development since moving to the outskirts of RC in 2011. Now I’ve found it! Thought you might find this interesting, at one point there was talk of offering the little blue house adjacent to Elan for $1. Of course you needed to move it, not sure if the offer was ever officailly made…http://www.mercurynews.com/peninsula/ci_26608422/historic-redwood-city-house-may-go-market-1

    I’ve been watching progress on Howie’s pizza as well, they seem to be taking a while. The trellis was a welcome addition. Hopefully they’ll add some nice landscape/hardscape to the patio area when it’s all said and done. The current metal fence needs some love. Their other location at high-rent Town & Country in Palo Alto would imply they have the funds to efficiently renovate the space. I wonder if they’ve been running into construction issues…

    Another space that seems to be taking forever is what I assume is Kristi Marie’s at the corner of Marshall and Broadway. It’s suppose to be a small cafe that’s run by part of the Borrone family (Vesta, Cafe Borrone in MP). Looks like they’re almost done remodeling the space and recently put in some trendy steel planters out front. I peered inside and it looked tastefully done. For such a small space it’s taken forever. They originally said opening in April 2014. Hopefully they’re able to utilize their great corner location with some outdoor seating options. The cafe/coffee scene is getting better with recent additions of Bliss Coffee and Cafe Zoe. Hopefully they can all survive…the +1,000 new apartments should help.

    I tried back checking the permits on 2114 Broadway to see what’s going in the ground floor retail space. The TI’s well underway and it appears to be some sort of food establishment. Past permits indicate it’s a Starbucks but I’m not sure if that’s still applicable. I suppose the location makes sense for a Starbucks even though there’s technically two in Sequoia station…and at least three on the fringe of downtown. Maybe it will be a La Boulange (not to be confused with La Boulanger) as Starbucks owns them and stated they’re looking to expand the brand…doubt it though.

    One area of town that I see drastically changing (more in the long term) is Broadway between downtown and Woodside rd. Downtown is already drastically changing and will only become more desirable as the years pass. It’s wont be a “cheaper” alternative for much longer and development will slowly ebb into the fringe areas. I see Broadway as one of the main areas prime for growth. It already has interesting infrastructure that I feel is underutilized. Lots of street facing retail spaces and some interesting 50’s buildings. At the moment rent is probably relatively cheap and could foster some appealing and eclectic tenants. Sort of like what California ave is to University in Palo Alto (or used to be depending on who you ask). Between Google purchasing 6 buildings at the end of Seaport Blvd (many speculating for the nearby deep water port), the long-term Stanford expansion on Bay road, the massive +1mil sqft office proposal by Jay Paul adjacent Lyngso, and the eventual development of some sorts by DMB (or others) at Cargil salt flats there is going to be a huge amount of people located near the 101/woodside interchange that will likely want to go downtown. That’s not even taking into account the numerous other large parcels in the Broadway area that the city has identified as prime for redevelopment (transit yard, Kmart, etc).

    I hear there’s even talk of utilizing some sort of trolley system on the old RR line that runs down chestnut. If this happens placing affordable housing along the new trolley line would be ideal, especially if they revamp the trolley line to make it’s way to the CalTrain/bus station. I’d run the line down Broadway to the Caltrain station if possible…maybe even close off Broadway between Main and Marshall to cars and have it as a trolley/pedestrian area only. The trolley line could loop back down Brewster then down the center divide of veterans till it hit the existing 101 RR underpass back out to seaport Blvd. This would allow any affordable housing and future office complexes along the trolley line excellent access to mass transit. Sounds hugely expensive and complicated, especially for a city the size of Redwood City…but I’m sure DMB would pick up a decent chunk of the cost especially as the route would run through their development. Were they the ones to originally suggest the trolley? I feel a lot of the trolley’s usability would be lost if it doesn’t make it to the downtown Caltrain station.

    Either way the plans to revamp the Woodside/101 interchange will most certainly need to be implemented if all of these developments move ahead. Again I feel this will only further add to the growth potential of Broadway, especially if they submerge Woodside rd under Broadway. This would essentially remove a huge physical barrier between the future Stanford development and downtown. It also makes traveling between north fair oaks and downtown by bicycle a lot more appealing. I seem to the recall that the city has already started looking at the Broadway area and has started exploring growth options for the corridor. Do you know anything about this? What are your feeling about the Broadway area? Or really the whole area bound by Woodside rd, El Camino, 101, and downtown. Same for all the growth proposed for the Seapost Blvd area – including the controversial Saltworks project?

    • The Chestnut Street Union Pacific tracks are only “old” in the sense that they’ve been there for a long time. The street-running tracks –which were completely rebuilt in 1992, with other trackwork more recently — have been in continuous and ongoing regular use — typically at night — by Union Pacific (nee Southern Pacific) freight trains serving Granite Rock and businesses at the Port of Redwood City.

      The streetcar idea is worth exploring, but UP has historically never been easy to work with regarding other train operations on or along their rights of way. Regarding the “loop” idea: transit experts and riders alike take a dim view of one-way loops because these require riders “downstream” of their destination to ride around the loop the long/ “wrong” way to get where they’re going. Unless the loop is very short or the tracks are only separated by a block or so, bi-directional operation is clearly the better way to go.

      • I had no idea these tracks were still active. I may have been overly excited about the whole concept when writing my original comment. I’ve since driven by the area and realized a lot more would be involved then I originally anticipated. I agree bi-directional makes far more sense unless the route is very localized.

        Nevertheless with all the proposed/approved development near the Woodside/101 interchange that area is going to be a traffic nightmare…really it already is. While a trolley/light rail from CalTrain would certainly make future developments along Seaport a lot more desirable I’m not entirely sure just how much traffic would really be mitigated. Does anyone know if a new exit between Woodside Rd & Marsh was proposed in the original “Saltworks” proposal? Maybe instead of a trolley a localized bus system is implemented with dedicated/separate lanes and subway style stations. Something similiar to this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rede_Integrada_de_Transporte

        With the city counsel talking about community benefit type programs for future developments the cost of such a system could potentially be partially offset. Especially by some of these large scale proposals that would benefit by such an infrastructure project…Saltworks & Jay Paul.

    • Wow – that’s quite a long comment! There’s too much there for me to respond to here–and a lot of it I’ll get to in future posts. Thanks for the tip on Howie’s. I hadn’t realized that they have a store in Palo Alto. I’ll have to go down there and check it out, to get a feel for what we seem to be getting. I, too, heard about the blue house going to whomever will haul it away, but I’m not holding my breath. The house is kinda cute, but I’m not sure it’s in very good shape, so I’m not sure why someone might take it vs. just building a new home in that style.

      That Broadway/Marshall corner is always in flux; merchants seem to come and go quite regularly there. Hopefully this one will stick! As for 2114 Broadway, I don’t believe it has yet been leased (either downstairs or up). They’re probably just putting in all the needed infrastructure so that a food-service establishment can go in there. Whether that’s a Starbucks or something else, we’ll just have to wait and see. Starbucks doesn’t seem to have any problem putting in stores very close to each other–witness the two Starbucks locations on Laurel St. in San Carlos–so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go in there.

      As for the trolley, the city is very definitely considering some sort of transit to move people from the Inner Harbor area (roughly, east of 101 out to the bay, from Docktown to Woodside) and that rail corridor is pretty much the only way to do it. We’ll see. I’m still waiting for the published final results of the Inner Harbor Task Force…

      The city is planning to create Precise Plans for other parts of the city. I believe that the El Camino Precise Plan is the next one being written. Perhaps the Broadway area will be next. There is a great deal of potential over there (not to mention a good restaurant or two: I’m a big fan of La Viga). As for DMB, don’t get too excited: I’m on the side of those hoping that the Saltworks project never comes to pass. But the Inner Harbor project, plus Pacific Shores, plus Harbor View Place (the project proposed for the Malibu Grand Prix site) means that a lot of people are out there ever day, and a lot of them need to get to Caltrain and other places on our side of the freeway. Woodside and Maple (and, possibly, Whipple if the connector from Whipple down to the Inner Harbor is built) aren’t enough to handle all of them. A trolley or light rail system seems to make a lot of sense. FYI, although Google has indeed purchased 6 of the buildings out at Pacific Shores, those buildings are already leased and Google apparently has no current plans to alter the status quo. Thus, that particular deal should have no real impact on the number of people going out there, at least not for the foreseeable future.

      I attended the Woodside/101 meetings and am following their progress with great interest. But that project is a long way down the road (time-wise)…

      Finally, you mention “maybe even close off Broadway between Main and Marshall to cars”–that’s an idea I’ve been mulling over for a long time now, and have been planning a post on just that subject. I’ve done the leg-work (literally!) and just have to write it all up. I guess that great minds really do think alike!

      Thanks for the feedback and for the extra bits of info. Tips like that and suggestions for new topics are always welcome! Regardless, I’ll keep exploring and writing about what I find. Oh – and welcome to Redwood City!

      • Thank you for the response! I didn’t realize there was so many studies/future planning currently on-going within the city. I’ve mostly just walked around and semi-explored the city development website. I’ve recently found myself with a bit of free time, maybe I’ll attend a council meeting or two. I know there’s a lot involved in the decision making process and I’d like to get a better understanding of all the factors before forming opinions.

        I’m not sure what to make of the Saltworks project. I know the project is on hold but I had assumed development of some sorts was inevitable – is this not the case? I have fifty thousand questions but I’ll consult Google before posting another long comment 🙂

        I was excited when I first saw Howie’s was coming to town. I’ve never been but I took it as a positive sign that a popular local eatery from a trendy part town chose Redwood City as their second location. Historically it’s usually Palo Alto first then Mountain View. Maybe they’ll start a trend. I’d love some more great food options downtown.

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