At Home in Redwood City

Construction draws me like a magnet. Thus, when I noticed a couple of dumpsters by the front door of our old Max’s Cafe in Sequoia Station, I had to take a look.

Max’s has been gone for a couple of months now, and I’ve been keeping a keen eye on the spot, watching for any sign of a new tenant. This amount of construction clearly signals that someone new is coming in: this is more than just the building owner sprucing up the place in order to make it attractive to potential lessees. For those who loved Max’s, though, and are hoping that something comparable will be taking its place, I’m sorry to have to disappoint you. It turns out that the new tenant for this space is none other than Chase Bank.

Sequoia Station already has a bank as one of its tenants: Citibank occupies a space towards the diagonally opposite corner, near the Pier 1 Imports store. Possibly of more interest is the fact that Chase Bank already has a presence in downtown Redwood City, at 2300 Broadway (next to Courthouse Square). Given the relatively close proximity between the two Chase Bank locations, this might be a sign that the downtown location will finally close, and the site will be redeveloped. I’ve been hearing rumors for years that the downtown Chase Bank site had been sold, but every time I checked county records there was no evidence of a sale. I just checked again, and although in March of this year there were some changes to the property’s title, from what I can tell the property still seems to be owned by an arm of JP Morgan Chase Bank.

Some time ago I read that the San Mateo County Law Library might not be long for this world. Since that building (which previously was a Wells Fargo Bank, by the way) is the only other building on the block, there is a good chance that a developer could secure both buildings and thus the entire block. As for what might go there, I do know that the city really would love to see a hotel on that site. That’s a lot of if’s and rumors, but just possibly the remodeling of the old Max’s Cafe space might be the first domino to fall that just might lead to a new hotel next to Courthouse Square. Or not…

My wife and I found ourselves at Boardwalk Chevrolet this week, and I was talking with the manager about where Towne Ford and Hopkins Acura might squeeze in to the Boardwalk Auto dealerships. In case you don’t know why I would ask that, the South Main Mixed-Use project, which is currently in the proposal stage, would consume some six blocks bounded roughly by El Camino Real, Maple Street, the Caltrain tracks, and Cedar Street. The two largest businesses currently operating on those properties are Towne Ford and Hopkins Acura. If the project is approved and goes ahead, those two automobile dealerships would have to move, and I had been told that they would join the other nearby dealerships in that group out on East Bayshore Road (a single ownership group owns the Boardwalk Auto dealerships along with Towne Ford, Hopkins Acura, and a handful of other dealerships throughout the Bay Area).

Anyway, the guy I talked to expressed some skepticism about where those dealerships would fit in: the Boardwalk Auto buildings are bursting at the seams as they are. That confirmed my suspicions: I like the idea of having an “auto row” out on that side of the freeway, and we certainly want to keep Towne Ford and Hopkins Acura in Redwood City, given the amount of tax dollars that are generated by automobile sales. But I couldn’t see where two more dealerships would fit in to the Boardwalk complex, especially one as large as Towne Ford.

While I was there, though, the sales manager told me something I did not know about Boardwalk Chevrolet. We were standing inside, and he said something about being able to, if pressed, squeeze nearly 100 cars into the showroom. Looking around, I saw no more than a dozen cars, and although he certainly had enough floor space to double that number if he had to, I couldn’t imagine where he would put the rest. That’s when he told me Boardwalk Chevrolet’s hidden secret: apparently, they are the largest Corvette dealer west of the Mississippi. And then he opened a door towards the back of the showroom, to reveal this:

My lens wasn’t wide enough to take them all in (I only had my iPhone); he has a lot of Corvettes back there. Apparently, those Corvettes are where the real profit comes from, and that is what keeps Boardwalk Chevrolet (and, possibly, the other Boardwalk Auto dealerships) in business. Huh. Who knew?

If you haven’t heard, there was a fire at Linden Park last week. I have not yet heard whether the fire was deliberate or accidental, but the two wicker shelters that served as a central focal point of the park are no more:

Look closely at the above picture (click it for a version you can zoom in on) and you can just make out the wire forms that provided some structure to those natural woven enclosures. Fortunately, from what I can tell (the park is currently closed off, so I was only able to observe it from either end) the rest of the park is largely undamaged, and it doesn’t seem that the fire extended to any nearby houses. Linden Park is a terrific little park, and I’ve delighted in visiting it over its two years of existence (in this current incarnation). Hopefully the structures can be rebuilt and any surrounding damage quickly cleaned up, allowing the city to reopen this park once more.

While out walking this week I had the opportunity to tour one of the townhouse-style condominiums in the 12-unit development on El Camino Real at Avondale Avenue. The Towns @ Avondale, as they are called, is a small condominium development built on a long-empty lot on El Camino Real next to our former Mountain Mike’s Pizza restaurant (which itself has received approval for a very similar condominium development). I watched as Summerhill Homes, the developer, slowly built this tidy little complex. There seemed to be a number of delays, the largest of which appeared to be related to getting all of the utilities hooked up. Fortunately, that is all behind them, and the homes are now on sale. They’ve only been open to the general public for a week or so, but Summerhill accepted preorders, and that seems to have paid off: when I went by on Tuesday, seven of the twelve units had already been sold. Of the remaining five units, only one is along the back row, on the side opposite El Camino Real:

There is one corner unit still available, a large one on El Camino up against the property line with the Mountain Mike’s. I didn’t get to go in that one, but the fact that it is a corner unit means that it has a handful of north-facing windows that most of the other units don’t have. Currently those windows look out on the abandoned Mountain Mike’s building, but soon they should be looking over the fence at another 12-unit townhouse-style condominium development. At least there is a gap between the building and the property line fence, and there will be a similar gap between that fence and the other development, so even when that new complex is built, those windows should still provide some decent views.

Summerhill is currently using one of the units along El Camino Real as a model and a sales office, and that one I did get to tour. Because it was on El Camino Real, I paid close attention to the noise level. Fortunately, it appears that the developer recognized that noise insulation was important, at least along that side of the development. With the windows closed, noise from the passing cars was well muted. I wasn’t there when a train went by, but given the development’s healthy distance from the tracks I wouldn’t expect that you’d hear the trains all that much.

As for the units themselves, based on the one that I toured, they’re very nice. All of the units are townhouse-style, meaning that stairs are in the homeowner’s future: in the unit I toured, the ground floor contained a two-car garage plus a nice-sized bedroom and bath along with the entry porch and hall. On the second floor was the kitchen, dining room, and living room, all of which were one large open space. This floor also held a dedicated laundry room and a powder room. Off the living room, facing El Camino Real, was a small deck, just large enough for perhaps two chairs, a table, and a BBQ. Moving up to the third floor, I found the master bedroom, with a nice-sized bathroom and walk-in closet, and a third bedroom with its own dedicated bath and walk-in closet. In total, the unit was just under 1,900 square feet in size, which is good for a three-bedroom home.

The fixtures and fittings all seemed be of high quality, and everything appeared to be well built. It certainly was a home I could be comfortable in. My wife and I have started to talk about downsizing, and although we’re not wild about this particular configuration — as we age, we want fewer stairs in our life, not more — currently we have no mobility issues and so we could make a place like this work if we really wanted to.

As for price, they aren’t cheap, but what is in the Bay Area these days? Given what housing costs in our area, and given the quality that these units appear to have, I actually think that they are reasonably priced. The unit I toured (along with the ones on either side of it) cost $1,388,000. The corner unit that looks out over the Mountain Mikes site costs $50,000 more. Finally, the one remaining unit on the back side of the property, which has a similar configuration but also has a small ground-floor courtyard in addition to its second-floor deck, is going for $1,528,000.

All in all, I’m quite pleased with this little development. They are attractive units, fairly priced, on a parcel that badly needed a development of this sort. Now I’m looking forward to seeing the next-door property get redeveloped.

Speaking of next door, I keep mentioning the adjacent Mountain Mike’s site because it is so visible and because the building is such an eyesore these days. They haven’t been trimming the weeds, making it particularly run-down looking. Hopefully the developer can get started on the demolition phase soon. But because The Towns @ Avondale sits on a corner, there is another “next door” — the small house adjacent to the development on Avondale Avenue. While touring the development I couldn’t help but notice that there is a construction fence around that house. I took a couple of pictures over the fence for posterity; here is what is on that site today:

I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that this house is getting torn down and a new single-family home is being built in its place. The Planning Department has given its OK to the project, although permits have yet to be applied for.

Lastly, on the subject of single-family homes, I thought I should get on the record about Thomas James (“TJ”) Homes. They are a medium-sized single-family home developer that is based in Southern California but has an office here in Redwood City (in Redwood Shores). Thomas James Homes appears to build homes based on a standard set of designs that can be customized to suit the owner’s needs. They first came to my attention when I saw their construction fencing go up around a house at the corner of Whipple Avenue and Nevada Street; they actually use fencing with the company name and logo printed on it, rather than the generic green and brown fence material that most other developers use:

Thanks to a post that Kris Johnson made on NextDoor, I learned that Thomas James Homes has entered Redwood City in a significant way. Currently there are at least six homes in Redwood City with this fencing around it, three in the Eagle Hill neighborhood, two in Mount Carmel, and one in Roosevelt. Although Thomas James Homes will build on a lot that you, the homeowner, own, they also buy up properties and build homes on them, to be sold somewhere along the line. I haven’t investigated the ownership of each of these properties yet, but I suspect that they all are lots that Thomas James Homes has purchased. I also haven’t checked out their plans for myself, but these certainly will be large, expensive homes, given that Thomas James Homes has to make back the high cost of the properties that they purchased. For instance, the property I’ve been watching, at 2403 Whipple Avenue, apparently sold for just under $1.5 million. It is a nice-sized lot, at 9,100 square feet, with a cute little 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house and a detached two-car garage. From what I can tell it has seen better days; it at least needed an all-new kitchen, the addition of central heating, completely rebuilt bathrooms, and, probably, and an upgraded electrical system. But for probably about $100,000 over the cost of the house someone could have made this place quite comfortable. Unfortunately, pictures like the following are likely to be the last we’ll see of this house:

Especially given the lot size, expect to see a very large two-story house rise on this spot.

With six (at least; there could be more) new home projects suddenly in the works, I have to think that Redwood City’s efforts towards putting limits on what can be built in our residential neighborhoods is starting to bear fruit. The new rules meant to maintain neighborhood character are months, if not a year, away from final approval, but I’ve got to think that developers are trying to take advantage of our current rather permissive development environment while they still can. Thus, while this may well be a sign that the new rules are very much on the right track, it may also be a sign of things to come between now and when those rules are finally enacted.

1 thought on “At Home in Redwood City

  1. Pingback: Banking on Redwood City | Walking Redwood City

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