Station Break

Given the recent hubbub around Sequoia Station, I of course need to say at least something about it. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend last week’s “open house” hosted by Lowe Enterprises, the developer who is proposing to completely rebuild the property (interestingly, Lowe doesn’t appear to be the current owner of Sequoia Station — that honor belongs to Regency Centers). But although I didn’t attend the open house, many others did, and a couple of local papers wrote about it (for instance, here, here, and here). I normally don’t write about a project until the developer has submitted a design, and because Lowe appears to be in the “throwing out ideas and gathering feedback” stage, I can’t say much about specifics. But I’ll at least introduce the topic, one that I’m sure I’ll be revisiting at multiple points in the future.

I did spend some time photographing Sequoia Station this week, to get some “before” pictures — although I’ll likely do that again in a couple of years, since this project won’t get off the ground for quite some time, if ever. Construction isn’t likely to begin until at least 2022, and even that might be a stretch depending upon how our City Council reacts to the design, when it is finally submitted. A project of this complexity is likely to take years to develop, meaning that we likely wouldn’t see a finished project before 2025, at the earliest. As well, one has to take the economy into consideration: if we enter a recession, as some people seem to be suggesting, this project may find itself back-burnered for a while. So there is probably as much “if” as “when” in this particular project.

Before I get too far, a word about what Sequoia Station is today. Sequoia Station is a popular Redwood City shopping center with Safeway and CVS pharmacy as the main anchors. It also includes a Barnes and Noble bookstore, an Old Navy clothing store, a Pier 1 home decor store, a Mattress Firm mattress retailer, and a Habit Burger Grill. Sequoia Station also has a large number of smaller stores, including a See’s Candy outlet, a Starbucks, and a Noah’s Bagels. Finally, Sequoia Station hosts a Citibank branch, and will soon be home to a branch of Chase Bank. Sequoia Station is located on El Camino Real in Redwood City; the property is also bounded by Jefferson Avenue, the Caltrain tracks, and James Avenue.

(Thanks to Google Earth for the above satellite view of the Sequoia Station shopping center.)

Groundbreaking for Sequoia Station, which was built largely on the former home of Davies Chevrolet, took place in May of 1992. The shopping center’s Safeway store held its groundbreaking in November of 1993. Thus, the center is just a little more than 25 years old as I write this. Back when it was built, it followed the pattern of your typical suburban shopping center, with single-story retail buildings arranged around the edges of the property, with the center occupied almost entirely by parking. Sequoia Station is somewhat unusual in that, in addition to the vast sea of surface parking, it also incorporates a rather sizable underground parking garage:

Based on the number of cars you typically see in the parking lot, Sequoia Station continues to be a popular shopping destination for many Redwood City residents. But that parking lot is indicative of one of the key problems that Sequoia Station has: the vast majority of the 12-acre site is given over to surface parking, when the extremely valuable land could, and likely should, be put to better uses. Fortunately, it appears that Lowe Enterprises recognizes the value that many of Sequoia Station’s current tenants bring to the community: according to the articles I read Lowe intends to incorporate “upgraded” Safeway and CVS stores in their development, at least.

What Lowe appears to be envisioning is ground-floor retail topped with multiple stories of office and or residential space. Parking for the development would presumably be in either below-ground garages or in garages buried within the buildings (or a combination of the two). As for how high those buildings would go, yes, they could indeed be as high as twelve stories (136 feet), at least along the tracks. Any buildings on the front half of the property, along El Camino Real, are limited to 10 stories or 114 feet. For comparison purposes, the Huxley apartment building at 1305 El Camino Real (just two blocks south of Sequoia Station) maxes out at 92 feet in height, while Elan Redwood City, the nearly complete apartment building just across Jefferson Avenue from Sequoia Station, has an average building height of 83 feet.

I have yet to form any real opinions on the project simply because I don’t know enough about it yet. At this point Lowe is looking at including 675 homes, with more than 20% of them being affordable, but those numbers are likely to change as the design evolves. I haven’t heard any specifics about how much office space the project might include, or how much retail the project will incorporate. Without knowing all that, it is impossible to pass judgement either way. I will say that I’m encouraged by the fact that Safeway and CVS will remain in some form, however. And I am a fan in general of high-density office and housing near our Caltrain station, and you can’t get any closer to that than Sequoia Station.

Mademoiselle Colette (on the corner of Broadway and Winslow Street) continues to make slow, but steady, progress. I’m delighted that they’ve removed the paper coverings from their windows, allowing us to see what is going on inside. In this photo, you can see that they are framing up a large serving counter (just behind the ladders) and appear to have marked out spaces on the back wall, perhaps for menus or for  artwork:

The reflections make the following photo a bit hard to read, but I noticed that Redwood City’s downtown Century Theaters have posted a liquor license application in one of their front windows:

Thus it appears that they hope to sell beer and wine (and possibly distilled spirits; this type of license allows that) in addition to sodas, popcorn and hot dogs.

Over on Vera Avenue, I was delighted to see that work has begun on rehabilitating the five duplexes at 112 Vera Ave:

These buildings had been mostly abandoned for years, and up until a year or so ago had been occupied by squatters. There was trash everywhere, and the building interiors were incredibly unsafe and unhealthy. But they are finally getting the update that they deserve, and soon should be back on the market, providing much needed housing, hopefully at the lower end of the price scale.

I’m delighted to say that I made it to Selby’s, the new high-end restaurant that claims to be in Atherton — although the Post Office counts them as part of Redwood City and official maps actually place them in North Fair Oaks. Regardless, Selby’s, which is located on the corner of El Camino Real and East Selby Lane in the building that used to be occupied by Chantilly Restaurant, is a great addition to our local restaurant scene.

Selby’s has been a hot ticket ever since they opened late last month, with reservations booking up quickly. Given their ambitions — they’re aiming to earn a Michelin Star — that is understandable. I, too, was curious as to what this place had to offer, so when the opportunity arose to have dinner at Selby’s, I of course couldn’t say no.

Selby’s is an elegant, white-tablecloth kind of place. Curiously, for a restaurant of this caliber, I found the place surprisingly noisy. Perhaps that owes something to the building’s interior layout — the dining room is a two-story affair, with a large open atrium that allows sounds from downstairs to join with that originating from the upstairs tables — or perhaps it is just that people have forgotten how to use “indoor voices” in places like this. Regardless, my wife and I plus our two dining companions were able to carry on a conversation throughout the meal without too much trouble, so perhaps it is just me. I will note that our table was upstairs; perhaps the acoustics are better on the ground floor.

I should note that Selby’s has at least one private dining room, so if your group really doesn’t want to hear the other diners, or if you don’t want other diners hearing your group’s conversation, you might want to consider reserving it. On our visit, the private dining room was unused, but I noted that its table was set for 12.

As for our meal itself, well, both the food and the service were excellent. Both I and one of my companions enjoyed Selby’s Veal Chop Marsala ($58), while my wife gushed over her Ratatouille Pithivier ($34) and my final companion had some sort of prawn special. Entree’s are à la carte, so together we shared a Carpaccio Cipriani appetizer ($22) and a side of Wild Mushrooms en Papillote ($21). Everything was wonderful, and we only wished that we had left room for dessert. Unfortunately, though, we didn’t: those veal chops, in particular, were large. But everything was cooked to perfection, and we had a most delightful meal. Oh, and did I mention the popovers? Rather than serving bread or rolls before the meal, as most restaurants do, Selby’s brings out a plate of giant, freshly baked popovers, one for each diner. Don’t let their size fool you: they are almost entirely hollow inside. And oh boy, are they good…

As you can tell, Selby’s is by no means cheap. For our group of four, the total bill — which included two or three glasses of wine — ran to $350. On my budget, that makes it a special occasion kind of place indeed. But if you can afford it, a meal at Selby’s is well worth it, at least on those very special occasions.

One note about the parking. Selby’s has a small parking lot behind the building, one that isn’t nearly large enough to accommodate the restaurant’s many patrons. As well, the residential neighborhood clearly isn’t interested in having Selby’s customers park on their streets. Fortunately, Selby’s has a terrific valet service. Pull onto East Selby Lane, next to the restaurant, and you’ll be greeted by a valet who will take care of your vehicle while you dine. The cost of the service can be added to your bill, and your payment of that bill is the automatic trigger for the valet to bring your car back around. Thus, simply dine and pay as usual, and when you walk out to the street you’ll find that your car is already there waiting for you. For me, this is illustrative of the level of service you get at Selby’s: well-planned, quiet and efficient.

I’m looking forward to my next meal at Selby’s. Now I just need to conjure up a special occasion…

5 thoughts on “Station Break

  1. The number one issue that sequoia station has right now is parking. It is the number one thing that everybody complains about all of the time. Sequoia station is fully packed all of the time and there isn’t enough parking. Sequoia station is already over packed and way too busy and can not accommodate the people who want to go there right now as it is and the idea of making the buildings larger adding more stores office space with less parking is a terrible idea terrible . I hate how you described the new development idea and we don’t even know what they are really going to do . The only thing they should do is simple, remodel what we have not add anything considering they can not accommodate the people who want to use it now making it larger and bringing more people to the space and more business to the space would be a shit show the only thing that could save sequoia station now would be add more parking everybody likes the above ground parking nobody wants to park underground and walk a mile to the store they are trying to shop at. Sequoia station is so packed and so uncomfortably busy at the moment it can only be visited late at night I actually refuse to go there unless I have to. I know a lot of people that hate sequoia station and feel the same way I do it’s too busy too many people not enough parking. Let the valuable land stay land or parking spaces and don’t fill every inch of every town in the Bay Area with housing ,shopping and offices why not rip out a store like barns and nobles and add more parking there is a plan.

  2. As always Greg I enjoy learning about everything going on in our chosen part of the world, the only complaint I have is that you failed to note probably the best breakfast spot in Redwood City that happens to be in Sequoia station. I of course am referring to the Franklin Street Caffe. If you haven’t breakfasted there treat yourself. (and it’s way cheaper than Selby’s)

  3. Every restaurant owner wishes their acoustics were better. Unfortunately it’s extremely expensive to install noise absorbing equipment, especially the kind that is not unsightly. I bet Selby’s is planning to do this type of work later once they’ve proved their business plan.

  4. Re: the noise level at Selby’s – it’s a matter of planning. High noise level in a restaurant increases turnover, as few want to linger when after-dinner coffee and conversation is a challenge. So you get more frequent seatings. Thus more revenue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s