Fact Finding

The City of Redwood City maintains a list of the major development and infrastructure projects on its website, a list upon which I keep a close eye. Although the list isn’t updated often enough to suit me—individual project statuses sometimes have to be taken with a grain of salt, for instance—it nonetheless serves as a very convenient reference for the more important projects going on around the city. Not all of the projects I see as I walk around the city are listed there, however. Sometimes I see a construction fence go up—as happened last week around the Burger King on El Camino Real at Hopkins Avenue—and find no mention of any such project on the development website. That sends me digging into the City’s archives, often with mixed results. Finding minutes, and even video recordings, of City Council or Planning Commission meetings is easy, for instance. But smaller projects are approved by the Zoning Administrator, and locating minutes from Zoning Administrator meetings is not nearly so simple.

The project to build new headquarters for W. L. Butler Construction at 1629 Main Street in Redwood City (behind Broadway Cleaners, close to where El Camino Real meets Woodside Road), is a large enough project to appear on the development projects list. Click the project’s entry on the list and you are presented with a page dedicated to the project that includes a rendering, a brief description, a visual depiction of the project’s current status, a list of the project’s highlights, links to any pertinent documents (such as the project’s plans), and links to meetings in which the project was discussed.

Whenever a project appears on the development projects list, I make it a point to walk over to the project site and take photos—ideally, before, during, and after the project is completed. That is what I’ve been doing for the Butler project so far. Here is a “before” picture of a large part of the site, taken from Harry’s Hofbrau:

The tan-colored building on the right is Broadway Cleaners, which will not be affected. The small white building—which at the time apparently was an office and construction yard for Flaherty Brothers Construction (and before that it was Szwede Slavic Books)—stood right where part of the new building will go, and thus was razed shortly after the construction fences went up.

One interesting aspect of this project is the way in which the needed property was pulled together. Butler (who is building their own headquarters building) began by buying up two private properties: the one upon which the little white building stood (1629 Main Street) and the adjacent property directly behind Broadway Cleaners (23 Spruce Street). They then requested that Buckeye Street, Hancock Street, and a portion of Spruce Street be abandoned and sold to Butler, noting that the streets only served the two parcels upon which Butler was going to build their headquarters, and thus were no longer needed. Here is a map of the area, in which I’ve highlighted in green the sections of road that were abandoned (the portion of Spruce Street shown in white remains):

Butler also purchased a couple of tiny, oddly shaped, unused city-owned parcels that sat between the abandoned roads and the Woodside Road on-ramp. Together, all of these parcels gave Butler the space they needed for their building and a surrounding surface-level parking lot. The truncated Spruce Street will serve as the property’s main entrance and exit; there will also be a secondary entrance and exit about where Buckeye Street formerly intersected with Main.

Here is the above map, minus the abandoned streets and the white building, with the outline of the new Butler HQ building added in:

All of that empty space on three sides of the new building will be used for a surface parking lot. As you can see the building is essentially a rectangle with a triangular section slapped on the front: that triangular section will contain the elevators, restrooms, and the building’s lobby (on the ground floor) and vestibules (on the second and third floors). As for the rectangular portion of the building, it includes one level of garage parking topped by two levels of offices. Above the office levels will be the usual rooftop mechanicals plus two 1,070 square foot living units (one of which is a one-bedroom, one bathroom; the other is has two bedrooms and two bathrooms), along with a large rooftop terrace.

This building’s location is interesting, given that it is mostly surrounded by the Woodside Road on-ramp (which is indeed a ramp; it rises from ground level at Main Street to the height of Woodside Road where it crosses over El Camino Real). Although pedestrians are not allowed on most of the on-ramp, I was able to walk a short way up and get a good view of the project’s progress. When I was there, workers were starting on the forms for the building’s foundation:

Today W. L. Butler is headquartered in Redwood City, not far from where they are building their new HQ. You can find them at 204 Franklin Street, across from the large Franklin 299 apartment complex and on a parcel that is slated to become part of the Greystar IV housing project (which will extend from El Camino Real to Franklin):

Butler originally received approval to construct a 91-unit apartment building on the site of their current headquarters, which presumably would have been built after they completed and moved into their new headquarters building. But Greystar development managed to snap up the other parcels between Butler’s existing headquarters and El Camino Real, and then proposed to take over Butler’s property and build a single large apartment building on the combined properties: the Greystar IV project. That project, which was approved by the Planning Commission and then re-approved by the City Council after the project was appealed, has yet to break ground.

As I began this post by saying, finding out about a large project like Butler’s new headquarters is pretty easy: not only does the city post the more interesting project-related documents on its website, but if the project went before either the Planning Commission or the City Council, interested persons can go back and watch those meetings. This project, for instance, was reviewed and then unanimously approved by the Planning Commission on August 16, 2016. But a smaller project, like the Burger King remodel taking place near the other end of town is a different thing altogether.

I first learned about this particular project when I saw the construction fences going up along El Camino Real. Very quickly the entire property was surrounded by the chain-link fencing:

I paid the property a visit, of course, and took a number of photographs, but other than the “Closed for Remodel” sign there was little to indicate what was going on. At least that sign told me that Burger King would be back—that it wasn’t closing for good.

I next went online and pored through the files that our City Clerk makes public there. I found surprisingly little information on this project. No specific plans, and most of the documentation I found regarded a landscape agreement between the city and the developer. From this and from the skimpy information supplied with the permit I did learn that part of the property currently used by the Burger King is owned by and leased from the JPB—the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which owns and operates Caltrain. The entrance to Burger King’s drive-through, which is near to and parallel to the Caltrain tracks, is actually on JPB land. One of the key aspects of this remodel is to eliminate the need for Burger King to use this strip of land.

Here is a satellite photo of the Burger King and its parking lot (and some of the next-door car dealership, which these days sits empty, plus, at the bottom right, the section of Hopkins Avenue that separates the Burger King from Honda Redwood City):

The red lines indicate the extent of the parcel upon which the restaurant building sits. Between the red box and the Caltrain tracks you can clearly see the parcel that Burger King has been leasing from the JPB for its drive-through. In the new configuration the drive though will somehow be fitted into the red box I’ve drawn on the photograph. The old drive-through, along with the landscaping and other improvements, will be removed from the JPB property and then the lease with the JPB for the property will be canceled.

My understanding is that the Burger King restaurant will be reduced in size in order to enable both the building and its drive-through to fit on the one parcel at 575 El Camino Real. Along with the new or updated building, it appears that the project will include a new water main along El Camino Real, improved drainage, wider sidewalks, new street trees, and pedestrian lighting.

This project was approved by the Zoning Administrator back in August of 2014, but the landscape agreement I managed to find wasn’t dated until November of 2016, and the actual building permits weren’t approved until May 2017. Looking online I can find no plans for this project, so without going into the city offices and requesting them I only was able to learn that the new Burger King building will be about 2,900 square feet in size (it appears that the existing building is close to 6,000 square feet). Which is something: the fact that our new Burger King will be about half the size of the existing one, is, if true, interesting in and of itself. But finding out even that one fact took quite a bit of digging; it certainly wasn’t as easy to discover as was the wealth of information that is easily on tap regarding Butler’s new headquarters.

If you see a construction fence go up around a property within Redwood City, it can often be easy to learn all about what is going on at that particular location. It isn’t always, however: depending upon the size of the project or the impact it may have on the city, the project may or may not have risen to the level where it was approved by a board who makes their minutes and supporting information easily available online, and it may or may not be listed among the development and infrastructure projects that the city lists on its website. You can still find out about other projects, but be aware that it will take a lot more digging and may require an in-person visit to City Hall.


When talking about the Burger King, above, I made passing mention of the fact that the next-door car dealership sits empty these days. That appears to be changing, though: this very morning (Friday, June 9) I noticed that Land Rover Redwood City has put up signs on the small building at the corner of Whipple Avenue and El Camino Real indicating that they will be selling used cars there. Whether or not they will move their entire dealership from their existing location on Convention Way (behind Crunch Fitness) remains to be seen, but I am very encouraged to see that this rather prominent facility isn’t going to remain entirely empty and in fact will live on as a functioning automobile dealership.

11 thoughts on “Fact Finding

  1. Hey Greg, I always appreciate reading your posts but when I fall behind, I like to catch up in chronological order. I sometimes have trouble navigating the site in that way. May I suggest that you add the date under your weekly title at the top of the article?

    • I have thought about that; good suggestion. I’m not happy with how readers access older articles; I’ll spend more time on that and see if I can improve things.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. It may be that the reason the JPB didn’t renew the lease on the rear part of the BK property is that the City is planning a grade separation project at Whipple. The most likely design would involve raising the tracks somewhat as well as lowering the road somewhat to create the vertical separation. If the tracks are raised, they would need to build a “shoofly”, which is set of parallel tracks for the duration of the construction. Perhaps the rear portion of the BK lot would be needed for the shoofly?

  3. I love this site, so informational. I believe everything you’ve written regarding the BK site however, I must share some information that was passed along to me within the last week but I guess I’ll call it a tall tale possibly because I cannot imagine if the plan, I was told about, was correct it would have been a large enough project for you have found all kinds of information on in your research. A Honda dealership employee said they will be moving to San Carlos and the BK & Honda site (and I cannot see why it would not include the land vacated by the DGDG dealership) were going to become one of those huge resident complexes that are now all over RWC. I live very close to the intersection of Whipple & El Camino and that would not be something I would like see.

  4. I had my car repaired at Toyota 101 on Friday and they are building a new showroom (4 stories) ‘behind’ the current one (the mechanic just waved over there). Is this where the cinema is?

    • I haven’t heard that. I don’t believe it would be where the cinema is, since the owners of that property have been working with the city on a large project of their own (that is mostly housing). But I’ll see what I can find out. Thanks for passing this on!

  5. Greg, thanks for acknowledging the City’s excellent project website. Coming from someone who has visited every other mid-peninsula city’s website, our Plannig page is head and shoulders above anything else out there. This is a relatively recent undertaking by our City. Just two years ago, it was very difficult to find this detailed information on our website. Tons of credit goes to the City staff led by Aaron Aknin and Steven Turner and their sincere desire for greater access and transparency.

    • Totally agree. Now that I’m covering San Carlos and Menlo Park more, it is very clear to me that Redwood City’s planning page, at least, is much better than theirs. And I’ve watched it change over the years; the city staff has indeed done a wonderful job.

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