Vive La Différence

In the space of a single month Redwood City approved two building projects for its downtown: one at 601 Marshall Street (by the Planning Commission, on June 30), and one at 815 Hamilton Street (by the City Council, on July 27). Although both were approved and presumably will now be built, it was fascinating to see the small but important differences in how each building project was developed and received.

My post Marshalling Support went into great detail on 601 Marshall’s makeup and approval process. To summarize, it was originally proposed as an 11-story building to be located on Marshall Street between Middlefield Road and Jefferson Avenue. After public comment, which objected both to the building’s height (which was within the limits set for that site by the Downtown Precise Plan) and the building’s appearance, the building was redesigned into what was finally approved at the end of June: a 9-story L-shaped mixed-use (primarily office, with some ground-level retail) building with two levels of underground parking.

As for 815 Hamilton, it has been in the proposal stage for some time now (I first mentioned it nearly a year ago in Time For Some Commercials). At the July 27 City Council meeting the project was formally presented and approved. Unlike 601 Marshall, it appears that the principals behind 815 Hamilton worked with the city from the very beginning, resulting in a project that the members of the City Council, along with the citizens who spoke at the meeting, expressed nearly unanimous praise for.

The differences began with the meetings themselves. While consideration of 815 Marshall took only an hour or so of the City Council’s time, almost the entire 4+ hour Planning Commission meeting was consumed by 601 Marshall. Of the six members of the public who spoke about 815 Hamilton, five were clearly for the project (one supporter had some reservations about the amount of parking provided: more on that in a bit). Contrast that with the 30+ members of the public who spoke at the 601 Marshall’s Planning Commission meeting: they were evenly split, with half supporting the project and half expressing strong opposition.

For those of you who are familiar with our downtown, 815 Hamilton will sit directly behind the Fox Theatre. It will front onto Winslow Street, and will span the entire block from Hamilton Street to Theatre Way (Middlefield Road). Currently, the space is primarily taken up by a small 27-stall parking lot and a building that once was home to Prestige Portraits (where many of our High Schoolers had their senior portraits taken):1_IMG_3684

Most recently, this building had been leased by the developer of the Crossing/900 project (thus the red “Crossing 900” sign above the door). However, that project is now far enough along that this development office no longer seems to be needed. Soon it will be torn down to make way for 815 Hamilton.

Along with the demolition of the parking lot and the old Prestige Portraits building, a small part of the Fox Theatre itself will be taken down. Have no fear, though: they are only removing a portion of the one-story dressing room wing at the very back of the building, and reworking the remaining part. In the following photo, the dressing-room wing is that small one-story protrusion between the main part of the theatre and the yellow dumpster (the white wall above the dumpster is the old Prestige Portraits building):


The following photo shows another angle on where the building will sit, with Hamilton Street in the foreground. The new building will consume the entire parking lot beyond the visible row of cars, from just this side of the building on the left (that’s Amie Wine Bar & Restaurant, for those who know it), making an “L” to wrap around the Fox Theatre, and extending all the way to Theatre Way:


In the meeting it was noted that the above view is basically what people stepping off Caltrain see today when they look towards our downtown: the not-so-attractive side and back of the Fox Theatre. 815 Hamilton, which will stand a bit taller than the Fox, will block that view and will thus present a much more pleasant facade to Caltrain riders. In the developer’s presentation they thoughtfully showed a rendering of just what that view would look like:


In this rendering the placement of the crosswalk sign makes it hard to see how the building “steps down” in height so that along Theatre Way it tops out at three stories, while the bulk of the building attains five stories, or 95 feet from the ground to the top of the sloped roof (which is really just an attractive facade to cover up the rooftop mechanical equipment). The building’s height is one reason why it was so much less controversial than 601 Marshall: while the Downtown Precise Plan allows for both buildings to have as many as twelve stories (136 feet high), 601 Marshall “settled” for a still-tall nine stories (112 feet) while 815 Hamilton will max out at five. And although 815 Hamilton will be roughly one story taller than the Fox, it will live in the shadow of the two Crossing/900 buildings, which are seven and nine stories tall, respectively.

This next rendering shows the building from a different angle—from in front of Arya Restaurant, at the end of Theatre Way (Crossing/900 is to the left, and Theatre Way is the cobbled street extending off the right side of the image; Cafe La Tartine can just be seen behind the far right palms):


The upper four floors of 815 Hamilton are office space, while the ground floor hosts the building’s lobby plus three retail spaces (one to the left of the lobby, and two to the right). All three retail spaces open onto Winslow Street, but one also has windows onto Hamilton Street while another has windows onto Theater Way. As you can see, the developer anticipates putting outdoor seating at the corner of Winslow and Theater Way, implying that that corner retail space, at least, might be a restaurant of some sort. Unavailable to the general public, but sure to be enjoyed by the building’s tenants, are the balconies that wrap the building’s fifth floor and the partially covered deck on the third floor above Theatre Way.

Two factors that worked to ease project’s approval were the building’s fairly attractive facade and its height, which seems appropriate given the surroundings. This project has at least one other major element that worked both for and against it: parking. Like 601 Marshall, 815 Hamilton doesn’t have enough within its two levels of underground parking.

According to the standard formula that Redwood City uses for buildings like this, 815 Hamilton should include 203 parking spaces. But given the building’s relatively small footprint, the plans only call for a total of 88 spaces—some of which are in tandem, meaning that a few cars will be entirely blocked by others. The lack of parking was the only serious issue brought up by two of the speakers during the meeting’s public comment period, and it was the subject of some discussion among the City Council members. But they, at least, were satisfied by the developer’s proposed solutions: a full-time parking valet, and a fairly hefty in-lieu parking fee. My post Marshalling Support went into the details of the in-lieu parking fee that will be paid by 601 Marshall’s developer, but to recap this is a per-space fee ($25,000 per space!) that the project developer will pay to the city for each missing parking space. That money is then to be used by the city to create additional public parking elsewhere in the area. Parking, I might add, that will be fully available to the public, as opposed to the spaces within both of these projects, which will only be available to the public on evenings and weekends.

I mentioned that 815 Hamilton’s parking element worked both for and against it. The missing spaces were a negative, of course, so what was the positive? The fact that each level of this building’s garage will connect to the Jefferson Avenue garage (the one underneath the Century Theatre building). According to Council Member Pierce, when the Jefferson garage was built the city wanted a second exit but there was no practical way to create one. Thus, we’ve been stuck with the current situation—only one way in or out—ever since. And if you’ve ever been caught in the Jefferson Garage after a popular movie has let out, you know that it can sometimes take as much as fifteen minutes to exit. With the creation of this new garage and the connectors it provides, we’ll gain the option to enter and exit the combined garage complex from Hamilton Street. Oh—and if that isn’t enough, the plans also allow for a second set of connectors to a future garage under the city-owned Winslow Street parking lot (the one adjacent to the currently empty Pizza and Pipes):


I hasten to add that there are no projects planned for the Winslow Street lot at this time; the city is simply anticipating one being proposed at some point in the future.

Eric and Lori Lochtefeld, the husband-and-wife team who are the principal owners of the Fox Theatre, are also the principals behind Hamilton & Winslow Properties, LLC, the developers of 815 Hamilton. Because of this, and because this project involves making some changes to the Fox itself, it should come as no surprise that by approving this project the city is also reaping a few benefits that involve the Fox Theatre itself. In addition to getting free use of the Fox’s main auditorium for a limited number of community events, the city will gain a new police substation right within the Fox Theatre building. For a period of three years after 815 Hamilton’s completion, the 900 square foot substation will be made available to the city at no charge.

601 Marshall and 815 Hamilton are both mixed-use office/retail buildings that were recently approved for construction in Redwood City’s downtown. Their differences lie not only in their size—601 Marshall is almost double the size of 815 Hamilton—but in the apparent amount of discord in their designs, and in their respective approval processes. Multiple City Council members noted that they wished that 815 Hamilton could have been the first development approved under the Downtown Precise Plan, so that it could have served as a model for others. We certainly heard nothing akin to that from the Planning Commission members when 601 Marshall was approved! But both met all of the Precise Plan requirements, and both only needed a handful of guideline deviations, so both were ultimately approved (815 Hamilton unanimously, 601 Marshall with a 5-1 vote). Together they help illustrate the range of differences that can be accommodated by Redwood City’s Downtown Precise Plan.

An interesting tidbit came out of the meeting at which 815 Hamilton was approved. Early on in the meeting our interim City Manager, Aaron Aknin, made a statement about how some new apartment buildings (he didn’t say which ones) are apparently being rented out as corporate housing. It seems that some are allowing employees to rent on a month-by-month basis, while others allow rentals on a daily or weekly basis—essentially, that they are acting as a hotel. This is very much against the City’s municipal code, general plan, and/or housing policy. The City Manager’s office is working with the city’s attorneys, and have notified the offending apartment owners that they are not in compliance. The City Manager will be taking additional steps, and following up with the City Council over the next couple of months. If I hear more, I’ll be sure and write about it.

27 thoughts on “Vive La Différence

    • I know that (whichever place(s) it was), the matter was referred to the city’s attorneys. Which will take a while to resolve, given our legal system. And likely we won’t hear about it; many (if not most) issues that are dealt with by the city attorneys are reported to the City Council in private session.

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  4. I have a question about all these new buildings going up. Do any of these buildings have solar panels on the roof to help offset cost of the electricity ? You would think the city would require it in this day and age. Make the developers pay for it.

    • The ratio of available roof space to square feet of building (and hence energy requirement) drops with each additional story. While one might argue something is better than nothing, the maximum solar potential of taller multi-story buildings is a mere drop in the bucket compared with their energy requirements. I strongly suspect that if you sit down and run the numbers that it’s hardly worth the trouble.

      • 201 Marshall does have some on its roof, though. I’m not sure how much or what it is used for (perhaps to offset the power used in the common areas?). But you can see the panels on the roof. I don’t believe that “The Lane on the Boulevard” (formerly, Mel’s Bowl) has any. I haven’t seen any on 299 Franklin, but that complex isn’t done yet. Your logic regarding the economics does make sense, though.

      • If the city required the developers to do it as part of the building then it costs the city nothing. And the city wants to start charging for the cost of the electric vehicle spaces that are currently free, so even if they offset those costs it is worth it. And yes, something is better than nothing.

  5. Hi,

    I have been enjoying your posts on Redwood City for several months now. Thank you for the research that you do. Do you have any idea what is going on with the apartment building on Woodside Road near Hudson/Central? This was one that was heavily damaged by fire and though there was work being done last year, nothing seems to be happening now. Anything you can share would be appreciated.

    Best Regards,
    Ellie Trautman

    • I don’t know, although I have it on my list to find out. My understanding is that those apartments–the Hallmark House apartments–were run by a non-profit and that all 72 of them were classified as “affordable.” It does make me wonder if that has anything to do with the lack of progress: perhaps there has been a funding issue. Certainly, there were a number of lawsuits filed by various former tenants; I’ll try to find out the status of those (many of which were consolidated into a single case). It is very possible that they are simply waiting for the lawsuits to be resolved one way or another (the suits were filed roughly two years ago).

      The lack of progress is particularly apparent when compared with the nearby Terrace Apartments, also on Woodside Road, which burned 3 months after Hallmark House. Construction on that one has been moving right along, and I expect it’ll be available for occupancy in a couple of months.

      Both of these apartment buildings are very much on my radar; I’ll be writing a post about this once I’ve found out exactly what is going on over there.

      Thanks for reading!

  6. Hey Greg,

    Thanks for your post. I always enjoyed your thorough coverage of things downtown. Could you send me your email address? There’s a couple of issues that could use a little clarification — especially the in-lieu fee. You made a point of talking about the benefits of the in lieu and the large dollar amount per spot. The majority of the fee was credited back to the developer and will never be collected. They are being charged $2.9m and we are crediting them back $2.0m of that fee. Review the PC video from 6/23 for the particulars. There are a couple of other things that also could use some clarification. Is this the best email for that?

    Regards, Kris Johnson

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Yes, this is the best email. But feel free to make your points in the public comments, too. I’m well aware of the credit for the parking connectors and other public benefits; the article was getting too long and I decided to hold that for a separate article on parking that will go into the in-lieu fees more thoroughly.

  7. Garage entrances/exits across sidewalks are kryptonite for pedestrians since they tend to spew a stream of cars (often with impatient/frazzled motorists at the wheel) across a sizeable stretch of sidewalk and sometimes clog the access routes with cars since they’re a traffic generator/magnet. And yet, oddly, the idealized Hamilton-side drawing of 815 Hamilton shows an address of 889 and no discernable garage entrance (traffic sewer).

  8. Once again a terrific job. It astounds me that all of this could be approved in one nite. And apts turned into hotels. Without a newspaper people can get away with most anything!! You are somewhat of a salvation.

    • Thanks for the kind words. Final approval has to happen sometime, I suppose, but this building was discussed at (I believe) one public Planning Commission meeting, plus it was also discussed by the Historical Resources Committee (because of the minor alterations to the Fox). And then there was all the work the developers did with the city beforehand to come up with a plan that they knew the city would like. So while the final approval was indeed quick, the building has been in the works for quite a while.

      • As a former mayor and councilman I am well aware of what happens behind the scene. But, It was always my intention to discuss major items with as much depth as possible at council meetings just so the public knew what was going on——and it worked just fine. That’s what bugs me about consent calendars—-many items which should be discussed openly are not. By the way, have you seen the drawings for the tunnel from the Jefferson garage to the Winslow garage through the three car parking spaces in the Hamilton garage? And who did you say is paying for it? tks, and keep up the great work.


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