In Fits and Starts

Construction projects take a long time, and for good reason. Building a building involves a lot of steps, materials, and trades, and coordinating them all takes time. As well, there are inspections, and of course unforeseen holdups such as delays in getting materials or not having the right tradespeople available when they are needed. Thus, from the outside it is reasonable to expect some projects to appear to progress in fits and starts while other seem to move smoothly from beginning to end.

As I walk around town I regularly take pictures of the various construction projects, both to incorporate into my blog and to establish a record of their progress. When a building is complete I look back at the photos, but I rarely look at the time stamps unless the project took especially long — as was the case with the 103 Wilson St. project (briefly known as Elan Redwood City but now known as The Cardinal Apartments.) That 175-unit apartment building took some five years from project approval to project completion, which is an unusually long time for a project of its type. For comparison, the 137-unit Huxley Apartments building, built basically next door to The Cardinal Apartments by the same developer at roughly the same time, took about 3-1/2 years from approval to completion.

Given the variations I’ve seen over the years, it doesn’t surprise me when a project appears to stall for no reason. As long as they start up again, I don’t give it too much thought. But I still find it interesting how the pace of some projects can change seemingly overnight. One such project is the California Communities – Harrison Avenue project, at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Cleveland Street (just across the street from North Star Academy, and just down a few blocks from Whole Foods). This project will ultimately consist of 17 townhouse-style condominiums organized into five separate buildings. It was officially proposed in July of 2017, approved about a year later, and began demolition in August of 2019. I took some pictures in mid-December of 2019, and at that time the wooden foundation forms were being set. Now, just a month and a half later, we have this:

Although this is only one of the five buildings, it is the largest, containing seven of the 17 units. And of course the roof structure isn’t yet in place. But framing three stories of a building this size in less than a month and a half seems like a pretty healthy pace.

The foundation for at least one of the other buildings has already been poured, and the foundation forms are in place for the remaining buildings, so I expect to see them start going up very soon. If they can keep their current pace up, I could see this project finishing by the end of the year.

Another project that seemed to drag on for quite some time is the four-story affordable housing project being built by Palo Alto Housing at 2821 El Camino Real in North Fair Oaks. This is the project that is going up next to the now-empty Eco Green Auto Clean car wash on El Camino Real. I wasn’t surprised that it took a long time to get off the ground, given that it is an affordable housing project. They often have  special challenges, primarily around financing. But grading began around March or April of 2019, and the cement walls of the above-ground garage (which forms the ground floor of the building) were complete by late September. Four and a half months later, we have this:

Not only is the building completely framed, but as you can see windows are being installed and the building’s exterior is being prepped for its final surface (stucco, I presume). This one, too, could well be ready for occupancy by the end of the year. And that’s great, given that this building will contain 67 apartments (a mix of studios and one-bedroom units), for low-income families, veterans, and people with special needs. Rents will be set as appropriate for those earning at the Low, Very Low, and Extremely Low income levels.

Of course, the affordable apartment building that everyone wants to know about is the Hallmark Apartments building, at 531 Woodside Road. This building:

This building was badly damaged in a fire back on July 7, 2013. Work to preserve and restore the building began soon after — I have pictures of active work being done from December of that year — but that soon came to a halt, and the building has sat, looking like the above, ever since. A lot has gone on behind the scenes, mostly dealing with financing, legal, and ownership issues. Everything should be straightened out now, but I’ll note that I’ve said that before. This week the Redwood City Council held what is known as a TEFRA hearing, a step that is needed before bonds can be issued that will finance the building’s reconstruction. But this is at least the third such hearing that has been held for this building: in 2016 the plan was to issue some $15 million in bonds (I don’t believe that they were ever issued). Then, in February of 2019 a TEFRA hearing was held, this time for $25 million in bonds. But the bonds have to be issued within a year, and they weren’t. So once again the city approved a tax-exempt bond issuance of $25 million. Hopefully the third time’s the charm, and they’ll actually get issued and the work will get underway. I’m somewhat optimistic this time, given that the city has announced that the builder plans to pull permits later this month, close financing by April, and begin construction in May. If all goes according to plan (it hasn’t so far, but we can dream…) it should be complete in June 2021.

Eight years is a long time to have to wait for these badly needed units. The reasons for the delays were many; the city sums them up as “a legal dispute between the owners [KDF Communities is now the sole owner] and new ADA code requirements.”

The Hallmark Apartments building consists of 71 one-bedroom apartments, plus one studio. All units will be affordable at various income levels. Prior to the fire the units were reserved for those at the low and moderate income levels. Now it appears that 30% of them will be affordable to very low income households. (For a list of the current affordable income levels for San Mateo County, which are based on the average [median] income in the county and which vary by family size, see the 2019 San Mateo County Income Limits list. Note that these numbers are adjusted each June; we’ll have a new list in June of 2020.)

Given its size, one project that probably hasn’t taken too long, although it sure seemed to go slowly, is the Wheeler Plaza project in San Carlos. I have yet to drop by and take some updated photographs of the giant mixed-use building at the corner of San Carlos Avenue and Walnut Street, but the city has just announced that move-ins to the project’s 109 condominiums will commence later this month and will last for roughly three months (at two per day, to keep activity down to a manageable level).

One project that I’ve mostly given up on is the transformation of the former Max’s Café space in Sequoia Station into a Chase Bank. Max’s closed back in December of 2018, and construction on the space commenced in June of 2019. By the end of October, however, work had ground to a halt. As far as I can tell, nothing has happened on the site since then, except that very recently a small bit of work was done on the outside of the building, above where the main doors were (and presumably still will be):

That bit of Tyvek you see in the photograph, along with the board beneath it, are the only changes I can see when compared with what was there in October. I of course took a peek inside (you can see in through one of the windows on the El Camino Real side of the building) but I don’t see any changes there. So although this looks suspiciously like someone is prepping the front of the building for a new sign, there is still so much work yet to go on this space that sign work seems a bit premature. It is progress, but so little that I have to wonder if this work is part of the bank project, or simply something that the owners of Sequoia Station needed to do for maintenance purposes.

I’m sure that to the people involved there is no mystery as to why projects stop and start, but from the outside, it is often mysterious. Fortunately, I love a good mystery…

Redwood City’s Kmart is closing! I’ve been expecting this for some time, given the issues that Kmart and other major retailers seem to be experiencing, and it seems that it has finally happened.

I’ve got some inquiries in with the city, and I’ll write about anything I learn. So far, the Planning Department has gotten back to me, and they don’t seem to know anything about the future of this site. But whatever is in store, you can bet that developers must be salivating: this is 9-1/4 acres of prime real estate, land that likely won’t sit idle for long. Personally, I’m hoping to see a large affordable housing development here, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Redwood City is looking for people to fill a whopping 29 open seats on a variety of advisory boards, commissions and committees. If you want to have some real influence on the future of Redwood City, might I suggest that you throw your hat into the ring? If you are at least 18 years old, a registered voter, and a Redwood City resident, you qualify for most of them (a few positions require specific expertise). For a list of the open seats, and a link to where you apply, go here.

Redwood City is hosting a community meeting in which they’ll present the results of the community survey regarding the Hopkins Avenue Traffic Safety Pilot Project. The meeting will be held at Redeemer Lutheran School (468 Grand Street) on Thursday, February 20th, at 6:30 p.m. If you have any interest in this project, you should probably attend. I certainly plan to be there…

5 thoughts on “In Fits and Starts

  1. Any idea who owns the K-mart land? It looks like the area is zoned multi-use and falls outside of the downtown precise plan (I think). Any idea what is the maximum allowed building under current zoning?

  2. Talk about the time it takes to build downtown. What about a fast tracked cottage or ADU as they call it know. Or just a plain home. One year is not uncommon. How are you going to ease the housing “crisis” created by the Government. Unless the government eases up. I hate to say it. But rents go down when there are more units than demand. The only way you get that is Ahh! Duh!
    You know it, we know it, the people know it. But those idiots at City Hall don’t want to know it.

    • There are new state laws that took effect on January 1st that directly deal with ADU’s. Part of the new law sets a maximum amount of time allowed for approvals. Here are the main highlights:

      – ADUs are allowed on most single-family lots, including one freestanding ADU and a “junior ADU” created within the square footage of the existing house.
      – Fast-track, 60-day approvals for ADUs with no minimum lot size requirements and a maximum 4-foot setback from property lines
      – Local governments cannot impose impact fees on ADUs under 750 square feet.
      – HOAs, CC&Rs or neighborhood groups cannot prevent homeowners from building ADUs on single-family lots.
      – Garage conversions are allowed without requiring replacement of any lost parking spaces.
      – No owner-occupancy requirements allowed until Jan. 1, 2025

      These laws supersede non-compliant local ordinances and apply to all jurisdictions be it Redwood City, Atherton, Woodside, etc.

      • Well, thanks for the information on ADU’s. I appreciate that. But you will not change my mind that City Hall drages its feet on Commercial Apartment Buildings. In order to get Social changes and money from builders before permit approval. Sending costs much higher.

  3. The Hallmark Apartments burned down the summer after our son finished his freshman year in high school. One of his friends was injured. That class is now finishing their senior year in college. Crazy how long it is taking.

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