On Tour

Last week I brought up the City Council’s recent study session on ways to alleviate parking issues in our residential neighborhoods, and noted that I hadn’t enough space to properly introduce the subject. Today, facing a clean, blank page, I’ll get into the study session, after which I’ll tell you about a tour I took of one of our downtown-area residential projects.

What the City Council calls a “study session” consisted of a brief presentation from staff to the Council, followed by feedback and discussion among the Council members. There was no public comment taken, presumably since no decisions were being made. The presentation by city staff raised some of the issues relating to parking in some of Redwood City’s residential areas, and concluded with suggestions as to how some of those issues might be alleviated. Staff intends to take the feedback received from the Council and develop proposals for public consideration at a later date.

I’ve mentioned before how my wife and I lucked into the house we own in Redwood City: only after we bought it did we realize how well-located it is relative to schools, our downtown, and Sequoia Hospital. As it turns out, ours is a neighborhood that doesn’t really have serious parking issues. Although we do have neighbors who don’t make full use of their off-street parking, there always seems to be enough room when my wife and I need to briefly park a vehicle on the street. However, we have friends in other parts of Redwood City where on-street parking can be very hard to come by. For instance, visiting friends who live near Orion Elementary School can be tricky, depending upon when we visit. Even when school is not in session, the neighbors seem to have an inordinate number of cars, making on-street parking difficult to find.

From the staff presentation it’s clear that the city is well aware of the problems. Over a recent one-year period our police department received roughly 6,000 parking-related complaints, while the city’s Department of Public Works received some 9,000 of them. Aaron Aknin, the staff presenter for this issue, did note that parking problems arising from “home overcrowding” due to our current housing crisis are not necessarily something that can be dealt with through regulatory changes. However, he related that an inter-departmental working group (of city staff) observed that there are currently no requirements that Redwood City residents use their off-street parking for cars; many use it for the storage of boats, RVs, and the like, and park their cars on the street. The group suggested that the Council may want to consider amending our city codes relating to these, as well as to abandoned and commercial vehicles that sometimes occupy valuable on-street parking. As well the group pointed out that Redwood City has no ordinances relating to street sweeping: in some instances the sweepers can do little more than drive down the center of the road, pretty much defeating the purpose of street sweeping altogether.

A lot of the presentation and discussion revolved around a parking permit program that limits the amount of time non-residents can park on the streets in certain areas during specified hours. Redwood City already has such a program, but it seems that tweaks might be in the works, especially regarding how many permits are issued to a given household. Currently there are only two areas of the city that use permits to limit on-street parking. One of those, I was surprised to learn, is right by Sequoia High School. Note this sign on Brewster Avenue, across from the school:

I had never noticed that this is “Area S”! In retrospect, given my experience with trying to park near Orion, it makes perfect sense that the neighborhood around Sequoia would have a similar problem.

If parking is a problem in the area in which you live, and if you think that permits are the way to solve that problem, note that you must approach the city with a request. And note that, based on some curious math (a topic that at least one Council member commented on), a certain number of an area’s residents have to support the institution of parking permits in that area in order for the city to install signs and distribute permits. The city won’t swoop down and force the permit program on any given neighborhood unilaterally. Nor will it institute such a program based on the request of one or two residents against the wishes of the majority. Finally, note that the program is a flexible one that can be tailored to suit the needs of a given area.

Parking can be a hot-button issue for many people, and so I presume that the Council will proceed with care. Right now they’ve been apprised of the problems and have heard some suggestions for alleviating them, but as yet there are no concrete proposals in place for Council consideration. Those of you who are interested in the subject should watch the Council’s study session, and should keep an eye on future City Council agendas for parking-related items. I would also recommend attending a Complete Streets Advisory Committee meeting: the Council seems to run these types of issues through that committee, and indeed some of the suggestions aired during the study session came via that committee’s chair. (To watch the study session, click here to bring up the meeting video, then click item 9A in the agenda below the video.)

Shifting gears, shortly after I wrote my post Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Greystar, I received an invitation from Victor Gonzales, Development Director at Greystar Development, to see if I would be interested in taking a tour of Franklin 299, the large apartment complex across the tracks from the main branch of our public library. Naturally I replied that I was. We arranged the tour, and on that day I was met by Victor and by Jamie Vallo, the community director of Franklin 299.

A building’s first impressions are given by its exterior and by its lobby. I find Franklin 299’s exterior to be fairly attractive, given the building’s size. It’s a fairly modern design that somehow gives off a slight craftsman vibe.  Both the exterior and the interior have a high-end feel, which comes from the choice of materials used throughout.

On my tour I was shown a one-bedroom model (furnished), a one-bedroom that was ready to lease (unfurnished), plus the gym, the common areas and the parking garage. I was also shown the building’s nicely equipped business center, which I was surprised to learn doesn’t get much use—to the point where I was told that Greystar II (the building going up at the corner of Jefferson and Franklin) and Greystar III (being built on El Camino, where Redwood Trading Post once stood) won’t have them. However, these newer buildings do plan to incorporate fiber to bring (potentially) gigabit-speed internet to each individual unit.

At the time of my tour Franklin 299’s 305 apartments were 96% leased, and 90% occupied. I was delighted to learn that, based on counts commissioned by Greystar, some 30% of the building’s residents leave the building on foot rather than by car, and that peak hour traffic is proving to be about half of the original projections.

Many residents do have cars, of course. The building’s two levels of parking boast 361 parking spaces, 35 of which are for guest parking. In keeping with the latest trend, parking is unbundled, meaning that residents lease their parking separately from their apartment. Don’t need parking? Then don’t lease any. Need more than one space? You have that option. While inspecting the garage I was pleased to note the large number of wall-mounted bike racks. I also observed that there were a handful of EV chargers, and was told that there was capacity for more.

Moving on to the apartments themselves, the interior hallways that lead to them are wide and very well-lit. I noted that each unit has a doorbell and two peepholes: one at regular height, and one at wheelchair height. Indeed, this development seems very handicap-friendly: units have wide doorways and plenty of room to accommodate wheelchair-bound residents and visitors. In the kitchens, I was told that certain kitchen drawers and cabinet doors can be removed to allow a wheelchair user to tuck their legs under the counter. Finally, the entire complex is pet friendly.

While the two one-bedroom units I saw were not enormous, they were of a reasonable size and were very nicely appointed. As with the lobby, it appears that high-end materials were used throughout—most visibly in the kitchen and bathrooms. One of the units I saw was on the top floor; on that level all of the ceilings are extra high, with windows that take advantage of that height. This gives the illusion of more space, making those top-level apartments feel even more open and airy than the units below. I was fascinated to note that the apartments that face the Caltrain tracks don’t just have double-paned windows: they have double-thick walls, double sets of double-pane windows, and two back-to-back balcony access doors, all for better soundproofing. Although I wasn’t there when a train passed, Greystar clearly recognized the potential noise issue and tackled it head-on.

Beyond the apartments themselves, Franklin 299 has two particularly nice common areas. The building is designed with one level of parking partly below ground, with the second level on top of that. On top of this “podium” is the largest outdoor area, plus the five floors of apartments. This podium-level common area, which sits about 15 feet above street level, has a pool, a jacuzzi, an outdoor fireplace, a high-end gas barbecue, and plenty of seating and tables. Keeping with the accessibility theme, I noted that Greystar had installed a pool lift: a sort-of crane that appears able to assist people into and out of both the pool and the spa:

Finally, there is another deck on the very top of the building’s southeast corner. This deck has plenty of seating, a fire table, shade, and heaters for those cool evenings. Because it is on the top of the building, the views are of course fantastic:

Franklin 299 provides free wi-fi throughout the common areas, enabling residents to sit on this upper deck, for instance, and still surf the web without using their cellular minutes.

Currently Franklin 299 will lease you a studio for less than $3,000 per month, a two-bedroom apartment for roughly $4,500 per month, or a townhouse-style (two-level) two-bedroom unit for around $5,200. Not cheap, but competitive in our market. Plus, as my tour showed me, the apartments themselves and the building’s many amenities are really nice. It’s hard to beat the location; just a long block from Sequoia Station and to Caltrain, and an easy walk to the heart of Redwood City’s downtown. If I was in the market for an apartment, I would give serious consideration to Franklin 299.

7 thoughts on “On Tour

  1. Hi Greg,

    I appreciate your detailed and thoughtful pieces and have shared a few that really resonated with me to friends. I haven’t commented before but these questions came to mind as I read this one.

    – Did Greystar tell you how they collected their pedestrian traffic number? Did they do their own mini traffic and pedestrian study?
    – How do they know their peak hour traffic is 1/2 of what was projected when they didn’t do their own, independent, traffic study to get their building approved?
    – Didn’t they rely on the flawed DTPP traffic projections? (If so, there is no way to break out the traffic projections specific to their project.)
    – How can they say it’s half if there’s nothing to compare it to?

    • Hey, Tiffany –

      My understanding is that they hired a firm to do the traffic counts. That effort had nothing to do with the city, as far as I could tell. As for the projections, my understanding is that developers do these based upon the number of residents they expect to have within the building; these, too, had nothing to do with the city (I believe). Greystar’s projections for this project, as far as I can tell, had absolutely nothing to do with the city’s DTPP projections. So they have an estimate (their own) and an actual count (from a third-party, who observed actual behavior) and that’s where they came up with the “half”. That’s my understanding, anyway.

      Thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing! I’m always glad to hear from people who actually give what I read some thought.


      • Thanks for the reply Greg. Very respectfully, my concern is that the information and numbers are unsubstantiated by “real” sources and the tone comes off as partial to developers rather than that of an unbiased observer, which is what I think you’re going for. We need to consider the impacts and ask the tough questions on traffic, affordable housing, water, etc. rather than whether a developer’s marketing team is doing a good job reaching out to the community. In my opinion, it’s the overwhelming volume that’s creating the resistance not whether an individual project was executed or marketed well.

  2. “I was delighted to learn that, based on counts commissioned by Greystar, some 30% of the building’s residents leave the building on foot rather than by car, and that peak hour traffic is proving to be about half of the original projections.”

    Very interesting. I wonder if the percentage holds at other sites. Thanks for the information.

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