Around Franklin

The other day I was researching a housing project being proposed along El Camino Real. The project’s description indicated that it would be located “within the Downtown Precise Plan Area,” which threw me for a moment—I don’t normally think of El Camino as being within our downtown. But the wording in that description was carefully chosen: it didn’t say that the project would be downtown, but that it would be within the “Downtown Precise Plan Area.” And indeed, turning to the Downtown Precise Plan (DTPP) you’ll find the following map outlining the area governed by the plan:

DTPP map

As you can see, the northeast side of El Camino Real from Maple to Brewster, while maybe not within the downtown itself, really does fall within the DTPP boundary, as do businesses on the southwest side between Lincoln and James. Thus, the Whole Foods building is governed by the plan while Sequoia High School is not.

For this week’s blog post I want to focus on the bit near the bottom: the area bounded by Jefferson Avenue, El Camino Real, Maple Street, and the train tracks. To better illustrate just where I’m talking about, I started with a map from Redwood City’s website and added some text to help you get oriented:

Area map

Within this relatively small area there are four large residential projects in various stages of development (shown in yellow-orange and tagged with a number within a red circle on the map), plus the existing Franklin Street Apartment complex. Franklin Street Apartments consists of 225 units. If all four of the new projects are approved and built as planned, Redwood City will gain an additional 708 units, for a grand total of 933 apartments within this roughly eight-square-block area.

Although the majority of what you’ll find in the area will be apartment buildings (assuming that they are all built as planned), at least for now some businesses will remain. In particular, the Papa John’s pizza place and the AT&T Wireless building behind it will remain at the corner of Jefferson and El Camino. As well, along El Camino Real the La Mancha Plaza (which mostly is just a treadmill shop, it seems) and the Sequoia Veterinary Hospital (marked “Misc. retail” on the map) will stay, along with Chain Reaction Bicycles and Security Public Storage (which lies behind Chain Reaction).

Also staying—much to my fascination—are the occupants of the properties on Franklin Street surrounded on three sides by the large C-shaped apartment complex (marked “11” on the map). In this space is a small (14 unit) apartment building, a two-story house, and a small commercial building housing a laundry equipment manufacturer. These guys must feel like someone is peeking over their shoulders these days, what with the looming apartment complex behind and on either side of them:

IMG_1416

I’d love to hear the story of why these buildings are still standing. Did the developer not offer them enough to relocate?

Enough of that, though. Before I get into the four projects that are either underway or are planned for the area, let me start with some background on the large existing complex, Franklin Street Apartments.

Franklin Street Apartments

In the above map, the two purple blotches identify the location of the existing Franklin Street Apartments. This large 225-unit apartment complex, which is bisected by Franklin Street, is most recognizable by the face it presents on El Camino Real:

Franklin St. Apartments

Completed in the summer of 2002, this complex was built by and is currently managed by Irvine Co. Apartment Communities. The complex’s close proximity to Caltrain, Sequoia Station, and Whole Foods, not to mention Redwood City’s downtown, make it ideal for someone who wants to minimize their driving. On-site retail shops include Sprint, Togos, Baskin-Robbins, Green Clean Drycleaners, and Kumon, along with the Franklin Street Apartments leasing office.

The complex consists of both one- and two-bedroom luxury apartments (some two-story townhouse-style), many with in-unit washers and dryers plus gas fireplaces. As well, some units have private patios or balconies. Shared amenities include underground parking with a charging station for electric vehicles; a pool with spa and sundeck; a “clubroom” with a gourmet kitchen; a fitness center; and a business center with computers, printers, copiers, and a conference room. The complex is pet friendly: you can have up to two pets (cats or small dogs) in your apartment, albeit for an additional monthly fee.

Luxury doesn’t come cheap, however. At Franklin Street Apartments you can expect to pay around $3,000 per month for a 773-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment. Two-bedroom apartments start at around $3,500, and can go as high as $4,650 for a two-level townhouse-style unit.

Reviews on Yelp seem to be uneven: overall the 38 reviews give the complex 2½ out of 5 stars. While some of the reviewers just love the place, some seem to have had poor experiences that caused them to rate it very low. It does appear that many of the really bad reviews are a couple of years old, however, so perhaps there have been recent changes that have improved life for the residents of Franklin Street Apartments.

Franklin 299

For over ten years now Franklin Street Apartments has been one of the only games in town in this part of Redwood City. The first of their new neighbors, however, is moving along rapidly and should be accepting tenants sometime this summer.

The large C-shaped complex currently under construction at 299 Franklin St. (number 11 on the map) was formerly named “Elan Redwood City” but is apparently being re-christened with a trendier name: “Franklin 299”. At six stories, the complex looms over the three small buildings it surrounds on Franklin. The 305 apartment units will have a variety of views: some will look into or over those three buildings, while others will have a view across the tracks towards our main library.

IMG_1415

Below is a rendering of what the building will look like when it is completed (this rendering is of the corner where Monroe meets Franklin; the above photo is of the other end of the complex, where Wilson intersects with Franklin):

ERC_view

Franklin 299 is being built by Greystar Development, a huge firm that is headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina (but has offices throughout the country). While they may not be a familiar name in our area, this isn’t just a one-shot deal for Greystar: Franklin 299 is just the first of the apartment complexes being constructed by Greystar Development in this part of Redwood City.

103 Wilson

Number 6 on the map is Greystar’s second project. Currently referred to as 103 Wilson, this 175-unit apartment building has gotten the go-ahead from the city and is now under building review. Greystar managed to stitch together seven different properties for this project: 103 Wilson will occupy the entire block between Franklin and the train tracks in one direction, and from Jefferson to Wilson in the other.

IMG_1576

In addition to the blocky apartment building visible in the above picture, the site currently contains the infamous $1 house (a small blue victorian that may or may not be available for sale for $1, as long as you relocate it); a small light industrial building where Wilson meets the Caltrain tracks; and a small empty lot formerly owned by the city (in the above picture, the trees in front of the apartment building are located on this empty lot). Greystar has acquired all of these properties and all of the tenants have moved out, so demolition should begin sometime late this year. After that, construction will commence, resulting in an apartment building that should look something like the following rendering, taken from Redwood City’s website:

103 Wilson

1305 El Camino Real

Greystar clearly knows a good thing when they see it, and right now apartment buildings in Redwood City fit the bill. Franklin 299 will be done soon, and 103 Wilson will get underway shortly. Not content with that, Greystar has acquired yet another nearby location. Assuming that they gain the requisite approvals, they will follow 103 Wilson with a 137-unit apartment building on El Camino Real (marked with the number 10 on the map). Where on El Camino, you ask? Here:

IMG_2229

Yes, this third apartment complex will be located where Redwood Trading Post stands today. There is no word on what will happen to Redwood Trading Post, whether they’ll relocate or close. Although Greystar has acquired the necessary properties, given that this project is still in the proposal stage it is probably too early to say what the fate of Redwood Trading Post will be. The project should go to Redwood City’s planning department in the May/June timeframe, so we’ll hopefully know more by this summer.

The building being proposed for this site would have six floors of apartments on top of two levels of parking (one underground). It would occupy the entire section of El Camino Real from Wilson to Diller, taking out not only Redwood Trading Post but the next-door Redwood Car Care as well. Along Wilson Street it would extend about 2/3 of the way towards Franklin, consuming the Redwood Trading Post building, the parking lot behind it, and the small building beyond the parking lot also used by Redwood Trading Post. It would stop short of the small fenced parking lot at Wilson and Franklin that (I believe) is owned by AT&T.

Here is the official rendering for this particular project:

1305 El Camino

204 Franklin

If the three Greystar Development projects aren’t enough, W. L. Butler Construction, Inc. is proposing that they replace their own offices at 204 Franklin with (can you guess?) an apartment building. Here is their existing building, located at the intersection of Diller and Franklin:

IMG_2185

Buler is proposing that they erect a 91-unit apartment building on this site (number 7 on the map). Like 1035 El Camino, this building would have six stories of apartments on top of two levels of parking. It isn’t stated, but from the rendering it appears that one of the parking levels would be underground, resulting in what would appear from the outside to be a seven-story building rising some 80-90 feet into the air:

204 Franklin

The apartments would replace Butler’s current offices and their front and rear parking lots, but would not extend any further: the small body shop on Diller and the existing businesses along this block of El Camino Real would be unaffected by this project.

So. 225 units in Franklin Street Apartments, 305 in Franklin 299, 175 in 103 Wilson, 137 in 1305 El Camino Real, and 91 in 204 Franklin add up to a grand total of 933 apartments within this roughly four block by two block area (OK, 947 when you add in the 14 apartments in the small building at 119 Franklin). And all are apartments: not a condo in sight, which is consistent with development going on elsewhere downtown. Why apartments, and not condos? Well, Chet Lane, a realtor (and a former neighbor of mine) provided the answer in his March 11 newsletter. In referring to all of the new development, he wrote the following:

“My biggest concern is that only 18 of 1,635 living units are available to potential homeowners and 1,617 will be rentals, not as good for the community as having more owner-occupied residences. I asked the Mayor, Jeff Gee, about this imbalance and he said that the developers are reluctant to build more condos for sale due to the likelihood of lawsuits from homeowners’ associations against the builders, dramatically reducing the profitability. There is a good possibility that when the lawsuit statute of limitations expires in 10 years, the apartments may then be converted to condos for sale.”

Fascinating stuff. And sad, if true. Although developers should indeed be held to account if they knowingly build flawed developments, they should be able to build a quality condominium with little fear of legal retribution.

In any case, this eight-square-block area is seemingly poised to become the rental-housing epicenter of Redwood City. Although it may not exactly lie within our downtown, it is close enough that downtown merchants should be positively impacted by the influx of so many new residents. And its close proximity to Caltrain and to the kind of shopping many of us do on a frequent basis will hopefully mean that traffic impacts from so many new residents won’t be nearly as bad as if the apartments were located elsewhere within Redwood City. Given the speed with which these apartments are coming online, we won’t have long to wait to see just how our new neighbors will affect life here in Redwood City.

23 thoughts on “Around Franklin

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  4. Having just walked downtown I took a harder look at 201 Marshall and Crossing 900. I feel I was being overly critical in my earlier comments. Both buildings while not perfect are nice additions to downtown.

  5. For some reason 201 Marshall actually looks better to me in the photo you provided…but admittedly I’m likely in the minority on this…

  6. Thanks for providing the link to the Architectural Advisory Committee. I think RealtyCheck brings up a very valid point and further research could make for an interesting future post topic. All my assumptions about design review/requirements/guidelines are just that, assumptions, no facts. I’d love to know what’s involved and just how much power the city has. Does the public have any say? There are a few projects in the pipeline where the design will be quite important, the Fox Theater office proposal comes to mind. I’m assuming the initial renderings provided are just spatial studies and not final designs, same for the proposal on California.

    I’m not against modern. There are plenty of modern buildings that fit in just fine in traditional settings. In a lot of ways modern is an appropriate aesthetic to represent Silicon Valley. I find most of the more recent low rise infill properties built in downtown Palo Alto to be appealing. It all comes down to context and finish details for me. 201 Marshall unfortunately suffers from a cheaper material selection and a design that doesn’t necessarily take into account it’s surroundings. The Packard foundation building in Los Altos is modern and a beautiful building…it also probably cost about 5x/SF to build than 201 Marshalls so perhaps it’s not the best example. Steinberg Architects usually does a decent job of budget apartment buildings in a more modern aesthetic. A lot of beautiful examples in SF as well but i’m guessing that market will support a high level of finish than Redwood City.

    • My main objection to this building is the choice of the red/orange color. If they had used a more muted brick-red shade, I’d like it a lot more. Also, the silver/grey painted surfaces look uneven and kind-of mottled. They don’t fit in with the look of the rest of the building, to my eye. Otherwise, I’m ok with 201 Marshall.

  7. Tom S made a comment about the updated rendering for the proposed office building on Broadway & Jefferson being a big improvement …

    Which raises the point of design and aesthetics. With Crossing 900 looking very generic (just walls with windows) and being pretty much the centerpiece of downtown now due to its size, and looking at a few other completed or in-the-pipeline buildings, its seems as though whoever — if anyone — is supposed to be ensuring that approved projects actually look good isn’t doing a very good job.

    Some cities put a lot of time and energy into debating design and aesthetics as part of their building approval process (Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Burlingame and many others in more distant places) … I’m afraid Redwood City will wind up with a lot generic ugly buildings if it doesn’t start forcing builders to add some classy touches and/or architectural flourishes (colors, textures, design elements, etc.) to all these buildings popping up all over.

    They’re going to be with us for a very long time, and I know a lot of people wondering who or what is making sure we don’t end up with a bunch of generic-looking blocky walls with windows?

    • I found the original Broadway & Jefferson design/rendering to be lacking so my baseline was low. The new building still has pretty generic massing, but given it’s urban context I find it appropriate. I’m originally from an old New England mill town will a lot of old brick boxes which over time I grew found of…so color me bias. Of course that raises the question why are building structures in California that look like they’re from NE or in this case more a Middle America industrial city? Maybe they built a ton of brick boxes in SF too I don’t know enough of this area’s architectural history. On the plus side it will probably age well…

      I’d imagine it’d be somewhat difficult for the city to enforce any overly specific aesthetic based requirements. They’re mostly going to be limited to dictating proportions, sight lines, material guidelines, density, fenestration, etc. Of course they’ll be some exceptions to this but it’d be outside the norm. Even with architectural boards the actual aesthetics of the buildings can be very subjective if there isn’t already a set style. While downtown has several beautiful buildings there isn’t a single obvious design language that could dictate a baseline. Subsequently I’d imagine the city would have a difficult time if they started enforcing one specific style. Even in jurisdictions such as Palo Alto where there is a very involved process to planning approval they only have so much power. I wouldn’t say any of the more recently built buildings in downtown Palo Alto are a significant improvement over Crossing 900. While they’ve had some hits they’ve certainly had some misses as well. A good local example of a jurisdiction with very strict design guidelines is Woodside. They do have a set style; rural and they strictly enforce it. Downtown Los Alto has had some pretty tasteful additions in the last few years but I’m not sure if that’s due to guidelines or luck.

      With that said I think it’s worth looking into what existing requirements are set forth. I’d imagine this would involve contacting the planning department/planning commission as they’re be the main governing body for these items. I don’t believe Redwood City has an architectural board but I could be mistaken. The massing of Crossing 900 is pretty generic. Two boxes on top of a podium. I get why the developer did it, and why the city likely approved it. In exchange for a more interesting stepped facade it looks like they’re providing a decent public courtyard along Middlefield/Wilson. However as downtown becomes more desirable the city moves into a better position to place stricter requirements. I don’t think we’ll be seeing any stararchitect designed buildings going up in downtown anytime soon but you never know…

      • Speaking of the new look of the building at Broadway & Jefferson, I thought it’d be nice to share the link so everyone could see what you were talking about. Is this it?

        2075 Broadway
        6-Story, 180,000 square feet retail and office building, with 2 levels of below grade parking consisting of 147 parking stalls.

      • Redwood City does indeed have an Architectural Advisory Committee: five people (all architects) appointed by the Planning Commission who review new projects and give feedback on their architectural merits. Check them out at http://www.redwoodcity.org/government/bcc/arc/index.html
        And for what it’s worth, there was a recent City Council meeting where numerous members of the Council–including Mayor Gee–made some rather disparaging remarks about the design of 201 Marshall. They were echoing some of the very sentiment that the two of you are expressing. I *think* it might have been the March 9 meeting (or possibly February 23; I’d have to watch the video to check).
        Also, if you look at the Downtown Precise Plan there are some architectural guidelines in there. Of course, whether or not the developer chooses to follow those guidelines is another thing…

      • That’s the one. Thanks for providing the link! One important note; The final window selection for this building will be incredibly important. The artist who completed the rendering is implying the windows would be some sort of metal units with mullions. This detail needs to make it to the final design. I find the implied windows to be a nice reference to the old warehouses and mills this design likely drew inspiration from. If they end up going with more generic units w/o mullions, similar to what is found on Crossing 900 the building will lose a lot of what I find appealing. No cheapo mullions either, they should be on both sides of the glass mimicking the real thing…they could do the real thing too but they’d likely have a hard time passing energy requirements. Of course this would be hard to enforce outside of being in a historical district.

    • OK, I assumed to much. I should have just stuck with “AT&T” and not “AT&T Wireless.” I had looked at the permits and projects for that site and they referred to it as a “wireless telecom facility” so I assumed that the building had changed function. But perhaps the projects were just to add cellular antennas to the building’s roof or something.

      • Probably so. Also cell phones are only wireless between handsets and the nearest cell “tower” antenna(s). Calls and data use wired networks after that, so its likely that central office is also handling some wireless voice/data too.

  8. Why doesn’t Butler finish the fire project on Woodside road, the old Terrace apartments and while your at it why is it taking the apartment project next to Posiden pools over two year and still no progress? Just wondering. Thanks Greg

      • What can you find out about that long abandoned project across from the Franklin St. Apartments? Really surprising that it just sits there.

      • Unfortunately, it appears that the Lathrop PARC project is dead (you’ll note that both links provided by Reality Check were dated 2011). I took it off my list some time ago since it fell of the city’s official projects list (and, as you can see, there has been no activity on that site for quite some time). It is very disappointing – the project (a 114-bed skilled nursing facility) would have been a nice addition to the area. I’ll see what I can find out about the current state of the property–whether anything new is in the pipeline for it.

      • If i had to guess the two stalled apartment rehab/fire projects on Woodside rd are probably dealing with some sort of litigation or insurance issues. Again this is just a guess. As for the Lathrop PARC it’d be interesting to know why that project tanked and what’s the status of ownership. I’d imagine the land is worth significantly more now than it was in 2011. If they owned the land they could likely sell it for enough to put a decent dent in what they invested in construction & development. Of course if this was the case it’d probably be on the market…so there’s probably some sort of complication. Maybe the contractor file a lien for non-payment and it’s tied up in a lawsuit…again only guessing here.

        On a sad note — at least for me, I recently found out Lyngso is moving to San Carlos. I’m assuming they sold their land to Jay Paul for his proposed office complex. Apparently they announced this back in December. I know it’s not far but I enjoyed the easy drive down Woodside rd any time I need some garden material, especially if I rented a dump truck. I don’t know if I’m ready to drive one of those bad boys on 101…

        BTW they updated the rendering for the proposed office building on Broadway & Jefferson — big improvement. It’s not going to win any design awards but it’s a nice looking building…there’s a little bit of Louis Sullivan in the facade if you squint.

      • FYI, my wife talked to the folks at Lyngso and they said that they are moving to Shoreway Rd. in San Carlos, next to Recology. So you shouldn’t need to drive on 101.

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