Wednesday was a busy day for Walking Redwood City. In the afternoon I took a 7.5 mile walk down El Camino Real to check up on a couple of projects, getting home about 5:30 p.m. After a very short rest, I showered and changed, ate a quick meal, and then headed down to City Hall in order to watch the Planning Commission debate the merits of the Broadway Plaza project. I had expected the debate to be long and possibly contentious, but was both surprised and very pleased when it turned out that everyone — the members of the Planning Commission as well as the members of the public who spoke — was on the same page. Although there were a handful of issues raised, overall everyone seems to love this project. Thus, we were out of the Council Chambers (where the Planning Commission meets) by a very reasonable 9:30 p.m.
As you probably know, the Broadway Plaza project is planned for the block bounded by Broadway, Woodside Road, Bay Road, and Chestnut Street, very close to the Highway 101/Woodside Road interchange. With the exception of the parcel on the corner of Broadway and Woodside Road that is occupied by a Denny’s restaurant, and the adjoining parcel that is occupied by a Jack in the Box restaurant, the entire rest of this large block — 11.2 acres worth — is to become a mixed-use development that will contain 520 apartments, 420,000 square feet of office space, 11,000 square feet of retail space, and a 10,000-square-foot childcare facility. All of this will sit upon two levels of parking, most of which will be located underground. In addition, a separate parcel across Woodside Road, at the corner of Woodside and Bay roads, will be partly redeveloped with a new CVS drugstore to make up for the one currently operating on the Broadway Plaza site.
These days the Broadway Plaza site contains a mostly empty strip center. At one time it contained the above-mentioned CVS drugstore (which is still in operation), a Foods Co. grocery store, an OfficeMax office supply store, a Big Lots! discount general merchandise store, a Radio Shack, a Red Wing shoe store, a Mexican restaurant, a Subway sandwich shop, and a couple of other small stores. Until late 2016 this center was in full operation, but in November of that year the OfficeMax and the Radio Shack moved out. Then, in January of 2017 the FoodsCo store closed. Since then nearly all of the remaining stores have closed — all but the CVS drugstore and the Subway sandwich shop.
With the center having largely been closed for well over two years now, this gateway corner of Redwood City — it is located right near the Woodside Road exit from Highway 101, and thus is a prime piece of real estate — has been ripe for redevelopment. Although Wednesday night’s unanimous approval by the Planning Commission is not quite the final step in the process, it is probably the biggest hurdle that The Sobrato Organization, the project’s developer, had to overcome. The project still has to go before the City Council, but only due to a technicality: the project will be making use of Redwood City’s recycled water, and in order to do so the recycled water pipeline has to be extended to this parcel, something that only the City Council can make happen. So the Council will see this project, but I expect that the project review — if they do indeed get into the project itself, and don’t just deal with the issue of extending the pipeline — will be just about as smooth at the City Council level as it was at the Planning Commission level.
As was noted by some of the members of the public who got up to speak at the Planning Commission meeting, as well as by many of the Planning Commission members, there is a lot to like about this project. Just what are some of those positive aspects? For one, the fact that it is located on a relatively underused piece of land, away from downtown (where development fatigue has set in among many Redwood City residents), is a plus. Another is the fact that this is a mixed use project, with a large housing component. And of the 520 apartments that this project will include, a whopping 120 of them will be affordable, reserved for people earning at the Low (95 units), Very Low (12 units), and Extremely Low (12 units) levels. (Mathematically inclined readers may note that this doesn’t add up to 120: there will also be one unit for the manager of the building containing the affordable units.) The 10,000-square-foot childcare center was cited by more than one person as a positive for this project. And finally, the fact that Sobrato made their original designs public back in late 2015 and then for more than three years took feedback from both the public and the city, actually incorporating some of that feedback into the ever-evolving design, was huge. The fact that a developer of such a large project showed that they were willing to truly listen to the community weighed heavily in favor of this project.
No project is perfect, of course, including this one. For one thing, it will bring additional traffic to the immediate area, and will likely have a noticeable impact on commuters who use the Highway 101 onramps and off-ramps at Woodside Road. As well, it would be nice if the site was closer to Redwood City’s Caltrain station (it sits about a mile away) — but at least the project will include a shuttle that can be used by people living or working at the site to get to and from Caltrain (and, by extension, to Redwood City’s downtown). There are indeed some downsides, but pretty much everyone seems to agree that this project’s pluses outweigh its minuses.
As approved by the Planning Commission, the Broadway Plaza project design contains three office buildings (totaling 420,00 square feet) and three large apartment buildings. Two of the apartment buildings, one largely facing Broadway and one mostly facing Bay Road, are six stories tall and contain a total of 400 market-rate apartments. The third, which will actually be built and managed by MidPen Housing, is five stories tall and contains the 120 affordable units. It faces Chestnut Street. All three of the apartment buildings stand upon a “podium” containing a large two-level parking garage, one level of which would be located below ground. Within that podium, at ground level and facing Broadway (thus, beneath the Broadway-facing apartment building) is the 11,000-square-foot retail space. Also in this podium, but facing into the center of the property, is the childcare center.
The above rendering, taken from the design drawings submitted by the developer to the city, gives some idea of what the project would look like from Broadway. The building on the right is one of the market-rate apartment buildings, with the retail space beneath.
Towards the Woodside Road end of the property sits the three office buildings (two of which are shown in the image above). Two of those office buildings will be four stories tall and each will contain 110,000 square feet of office space. The third office building is to be five stories tall, and will encompass 200,000 square feet of space.
Between the three office buildings and the three apartment buildings is a large — about 1.6 acres — open space designed with a lawn, a playground, and a dog park, all open to the public. The childcare center has a dedicated outside space, as do each of the office buildings. The affordable apartment building, which is roughly C-shaped, has its own dedicated space in the middle of the “C” for various outdoor amenities, while the two market-rate apartments have a large dedicated outdoor space between them for the pools, patios, BBQs, and such that are exclusively for use by the apartment residents and guests.
The following image, included as part of the design drawings submitted by the developer to the city, shows how the buildings and public spaces are laid out on the property:
[click the above for a version you can zoom in on]
In the above image, Chestnut Street is along the left, Woodside Road is along the right, Broadway runs across the top, and Bay Road runs across the bottom. The three buildings on the left half of the property are the residential buildings. The three large rectangles towards the right side of the property are the office buildings, and the white L-shaped thing in the upper right corner are the two parcels that aren’t part of the project: they contain the Denny’s and the Jack in the Box restaurants.
Not visible in the above image is the huge parking garage that will be built beneath all of this. Its design is particularly interesting. Beneath the office buildings, both parking levels will be located below ground. Beneath the apartment buildings, though, one parking level will be below ground while the other level will be mostly above ground. This will all be one massive garage, occupying nearly all of the site’s 11.2 acres and providing more than 1,900 spaces. Recognizing that offices need more parking during the day, while apartments need less, 274 of the parking spaces would be shared between office and residential use. Beyond those 274 shared spaces, there is at least one dedicated parking space for each of the 520 apartments, 88 for the retail and childcare spaces, and 1,035 spaces dedicated to the office buildings. And that is just for cars: there are a great many bicycle and motorcycle parking spaces as well.
As I mentioned, the CVS drugstore will not be located on this parcel. It will be moved across Woodside Road (and thus off the right edge of the above image). Here is a view of the intersection of Woodside and Bay roads, as viewed from the Broadway Plaza parcel; the small two-story office building you can see across Woodside Road in the left half of the picture is slated to be torn down and the new 15,000-square-foot CVS drugstore built in its place:
This is an exciting project that will add much-needed housing and office space to an arguably underutilized part of Redwood City. Unfortunately, especially for those who can’t wait to see all of that affordable housing come online, it won’t come quickly. The plan is to build this project using a phased approach. Before the existing center can be torn down, the new CVS drugstore has to be built across Woodside Road, after which the CVS can be moved and the buildings razed. Then, the soil beneath the existing shopping center needs to be remediated — a process that is expected to take a full year (some of which might overlap with the construction of the new CVS across the street). After that, the parking garage will be built. Next, Sobrato will build the two market-rate apartment buildings, while at the same time MidPen Housing — who will own and manage the affordable apartment building — will build theirs. Lastly, Sobrato will build the three office buildings. All of this will take time, clearly. If all goes according to plan, it will be at least a four-year process. But by phasing the construction process, at least that the housing will be ready for occupancy as early as possible.
It’s such a pleasure to watch projects evolve the way they are supposed to. This one took a great deal of time to get to this point, but I think nearly everyone can agree that the end result was worth it. We’ll have to wait several years more for it to come to full fruition, but in the end, it should be a great addition to Redwood City, not to mention to the Stambaugh-Heller neighborhood, of which this is a part. On a personal level, after my long walk on Wednesday (which I’ll report on next week), I’m ever so grateful that the meeting to approve it was relatively quick. Fingers crossed, perhaps the developers of some of the other large projects being proposed for Redwood City will learn from The Sobrato Organization…