Paying Attention

It is always a good sign when a developer pays attention to what the community is saying, and adjusts their project accordingly. Whether or not the changes that some of our local developers are making lately are enough is debatable (and surely will be debated in Planning Commission and City Council meetings to come) but you have to admit, they’re moving in the right direction.

As originally proposed, the “Autozone” project (one of the nine Gatekeeper Process projects) was going to put a 7-story mixed-use building plus a freestanding teen center building on three adjacent parcels along El Camino Real currently occupied by Autozone, the now-empty Yumi Yogurt building, and the small taqueria at the corner of El Camino Real and James Avenue. The mixed-use building was designed primarily as offices, with between 20 and 30 affordable apartments occupying part of the first two floors.

Between the initial proposal and this week’s Gatekeeper Process presentation to the City Council, however, the developer made a very large, very welcome change. They’ve added a fourth parcel to the project, one that sits kitty-corner to the AutoZone property. This parcel:

Their intent is now to separate out the affordable housing and put it all into a stand-alone building where A-1 Party Rental and Events stands today. This change allows the developer to more than double the number of apartments provided, as well as to make many of those units larger. Rather than the originally proposed 20 to 30 studio and one-bedroom apartments, this new building would contain 60 affordable apartments, the majority of which would be two and three-bedroom units.

Although we don’t yet know what this additional building would look like, and thus how well it would fit into its surroundings, we’ll likely learn soon enough. And given that this new parcel is also kitty-corner from the 8-story apartment building at 201 Marshall (the “orange” building, where Broadway and Marshall Street meet the Caltrain tracks), a multi-story apartment building may fit right in.

Another of the Gatekeeper Process projects — this one proposing to replace the downtown Chase Bank building — also made a significant change to its affordable housing component. As originally proposed this particular project didn’t actually include any housing, although the developer was willing to pay twice the city-mandated affordable housing fee. The amount that they had proposed to pay, $8 million, would, they estimated, have allowed for the construction of around 40 housing units aimed at those earning at or below the Low and Very Low income levels. Since their original proposal, however, the developer, Tishman Speyer, has apparently secured a property on Price Street where they would ensure that affordable housing would be built. Currently, the parcel, which is located at 609 Price Street (right next door to the DMV), contains a small, rather nondescript two-story office building:

As with the Autozone project, with their new site Tishman Speyer has doubled the amount of affordable housing they believe they can provide: 80 units in total. Of those 80 units, eight would be for those at the Extremely Low income level, 24 would be for those at the Very Low income level, and the remaining 48 units would be for Low Income earners. Plus, half of the units would have either two or three bedrooms, making them suitable for families.

As I noted, whether these changes are enough to make the office components of their projects palatable is a debate for another time and place. But both developers are making very welcome steps in the right direction. I view this as a clear sign that they are paying attention to the needs of the community. We badly need more affordable housing in Redwood City, and units that have two or three bedrooms would be very, very welcome.

On the subject of housing, a small market-rate condo development just popped up on the city’s Development Projects web page, one that has an unusual feature or two. This nine-unit development is being proposed for the block of Birch Street between Whipple and Hopkins avenues. Today that particular block consists of a mix of housing and small medical office buildings. While the project would replace a small one-story medical office building, right across the street is a multi-story apartment building.

The office building that this project would replace is this one, located at 77 Birch St.:

The developer is proposing to instead construct nine “townhouse style” condominiums. While I question whether they would truly be considered townhouses, that’s just semantics. In any case, here’s a rendering of what the building would look like:

The building would consist of two rows of four condominiums each, with a driveway running down the center. The ninth condo would bridge between the two buildings, spanning the driveway entrance to the complex. Because this layout is a little hard to discern from the above rendering, here’s an overhead view that shows things a little more clearly:

The two long gray roofs cover four condos on each side (and note the enclosed patios that each unit has on its top level). Above where the car is coming out of the complex’s driveway, in the foreground of the image, is the ninth unit; it extends all the way from one side of the development to the other. Above it is that unit’s private deck.

The layout of that ninth unit is one unusual feature of this development; it is laid out “shotgun style,” with one bedroom/bathroom suite on the left and another on the right. The living room, dining room, and kitchen are all in the center. This particular unit is 112 feet long, and only 12 feet wide (with a bit of extra width where some windows bump out). It has two single-car garages on the ground floor, plus a den/office space and a full bathroom (with a bathtub!) next to the lefthand garage and the unit’s entryway and staircase next to the righthand one. The second floor contains the unit’s two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a laundry room, and the public living spaces. Finally, the top floor consists mainly of a huge deck, along with a storage unit.

The remaining eight condominiums are more conventional. One is designed to be ADA-compliant, but other than that they are all basically the same. Each has a two car garage, an office/den, and a full bathroom on the ground floor. The second floor contains the unit’s living and dining rooms, the kitchen, a half bath, and a small deck. On the third floor there are two bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and a laundry room. Finally, the top floor contains a full bathroom (again, with a bathtub!) and a “flex” space: a sort-of family room that opens out onto two private rooftop decks.

If you do the math, you’ll see that these eight units are two-bedroom condominiums with four full bathrooms plus a half bath — which is a bit unusual. Like townhouse style condominiums, the occupants of these eight units will be transiting between levels quite a bit, which normally means stairs — and these units of course have those. But what they also have is something I rarely see in developments like these: elevators. They’re shown on the plan as optional, meaning that they will only be installed if the original purchaser elects to pay for one, but each individual unit (except for the ninth unit, which spans the driveway) can have its own private elevator. Certainly these elevators are likely to be small, but I know I’d pay for one if I was buying into this development: it would be a tremendous convenience in normal times, and as my wife and I get older I can imagine making more and more use of it. Finally, we have two good friends who are mobility impaired, and who would have a tough time managing all of those stairs; I’d love to be able to invite them over and have them use my own private elevator.

All told the eight matching units have in excess of 2,000 square feet of interior living space, 370 square feet of deck space (spread out over three decks), and 430 square feet of garage. That’s a pretty comfortable size, and with the addition of the elevator makes for a condominium that I might actually consider trading in my single-family home for. I’ve been complaining for some time now about how few condominiums were being built in Redwood City, and of the ones that are, how the “townhouse style” layouts are difficult for the elderly and the infirm. Except for the stairs I like having my living space arrayed on multiple floors, and the addition of a private elevator takes away the objections I have to that particular design. While I don’t believe that this project’s developer was actually paying attention to my particular thoughts on the subject, at least someone had the right idea.

One last point about this project: the location has a lot to recommend it. 77 Birch St. is midway between Whipple and Hopkins Avenue, and is about two easy blocks from the intersection of Broadway and El Camino Real. From there it is only a couple blocks more to the transit center, to Sequoia Station, or to downtown Redwood City. Thus, this is a very walkable location. I could see living there and almost never having to drive anywhere.

The site of the 77 Birch St. project was the first stop on my walk this week; I was eager to see where it was located, and what its surroundings are like. After that, I wandered through Redwood City to check up on 609 Price Street (discussed earlier) and some other sites of interest. The first is one that caught my eye as I was driving by the other day; I just had to go back and confirm what I thought I saw. Yep, I did see this:

Now that is a paint job. Wild, ain’t it? You’ll find this particular building at 1400 Industrial Way (just behind the Pizza Hut on Whipple Avenue), in case you want to take a look for yourself.

Next up, Zareen’s Pakistani & Indian Kitchen looks almost ready to open their doors for business:

(click the image for a version you can zoom in on; as you can see, the interior is looking pretty complete)

You’ll find Zareen’s at 2039 Broadway, across from Blacksmith bar and Nick the Greek.

On the subject of restaurants, I was sad to see that Alana’s Café, on Main Street by the main branch of Redwood City’s Public Library, has closed for the duration of our pandemic. They’ve posted a sign out front that says the following, in part:

Our type of restaurant needs to have a vibrant business environment around us to sustain our restaurant. The loss of our weekday groups, business lunches and breakfasts is impossible to ignore. The weekend business is also not what we had hoped for.

If you are a fan of Alana’s, know that they have another location in Burlingame (as well as Sixto’s Cantina, which serves Mexican food). Hopefully they will reopen someday soon. They’ve been in Redwood City for 19 years, apparently, and would leave a huge hole in the fabric of the city if they left for good.

Also on the subject of restaurants, I was delighted to see a liquor license application in the window of the shuttered Kristi Marie’s breakfast/lunch place at the corner of Arguello and Marshall streets. I was doubly delighted to see that the new venture will be brought to us by Zu Tarazi, most recently the proprietor of the nearby Bottle Shop, and his wife Kristi. This particular license “authorizes the sale of beer and wine for consumption on or off the premises where sold.” Given the storefront’s small size, likely this will be more of a retail establishment and less of a wine bar — but we’ll see. Oh, and the name of this new venture? “Juicebox.”

The “Link 33” townhouse development on El Camino Real and Hopkins Avenue, where Honda Redwood City used to be, is making great progress on the complex’s remaining buildings. I stopped by to take some pictures, and was interested to note that the small homeless encampment located where Hopkins Avenue stops just short of the Caltrain tracks has been cleared out and the site cleaned up. That wasn’t a surprise, although I had expected this to be done a long time ago. What was a surprise, though, is what I found in place of the encampment:

Yep, planter boxes. Five of them, all freshly planted with a variety of herbs. I have no idea who put these here (this property is in the Caltrain right-of-way, and is between the Burger King and the Link 33 development), but I like them. If anyone has any clues to where these came from and why they are in this particular spot, I’d love to know…

Finally, a treat: one of the readers of my blog is the gentleman who took over the Redwood City Underground Pub and turned it into The Hub RWC. The Hub RWC is located amidst that block of Broadway businesses that back onto the Perry Street parking lot, and so from the roof of his business he has a rather unusual vantage point onto the construction going on across the lot at 55 Perry St. He sent me a photo he took from his roof, and I thought you might get a kick out of seeing that particular project (which is converting the old Elgin Auto building into office space) from a new vantage point:

Understandably my new friend is finding it a bit challenging to build up a new business at this particular time, so he’s trying some rather unusual things in order to see what might work. Do take a moment check out The Hub RWC’s website to see what he’s up to! (Hint: we’re used to a wide variety of ethnic foods in the Bay Area, but — New Zealand?!?)

As usual, there is a lot going on in Redwood City. Much if it is pretty in-your-face, but some of it is more subtle. If you, like me, are curious about what’s in store Redwood City, keep paying attention. And if you can’t do that, keep reading: hopefully I’ll be able to pay attention for you…

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