Stayin’ Alive

Merry Christmas, everyone! Yes, I’m actually posting on Christmas Day (although I wrote this on the 23rd). I just looked back, and over the seven years I’ve been writing this blog, this is only the second time that I’ve published a post on Christmas Day (the first was in 2015).

Here’s hoping that everyone reading this is staying healthy and sane. Although for many of us this holiday season is not quite what we imagined back at the start of 2020, I hope that nevertheless everyone can find at least some joy in it.

In case you are looking for an extra dose of Christmas cheer, Redwood City recently held their “Holly Jolly Holiday Home Decorating Contest,” and just announced the winners. For a list of the winners, a map showing the locations of all of the contest entrants, and a three-minute video showing the winners plus snapshots of many (all?) of the entrants, check out the contest website.

While this week’s post title nicely fits the contents of the post — I’ll get to that in a second — my wife and I watched the new documentary on the Bee Gee’s the other night, and their music has been echoing around our house, interspersed with Christmas music, ever since. Thus, their song “Stayin’ Alive” has been rattling around in my head, and popped right up when I was considering what I might title this week’s post.

Last week I ended my post with a couple of brief items, one of which was a mention of the 12-unit townhouse-style condominium development soon to be built in place of the old Mountain Mike’s pizza restaurant at 120 El Camino Real. Until last week I had begun to wonder if that project was still in the works, or whether it had been abandoned by its developer. The recent posting of signs giving the development a name — “One20 Towns” — along with a timeframe within which the for-sale units should come onto the market (winter 2021) put my fears to rest. But that project got me to looking through my list of active projects for similar ones: projects that have shown no real progress for long enough that I’ve started to wonder whether they were, well, “stayin’ alive.” I came up with five such projects, and so this week I structured my walk so that I could visit four of the five. As for the last one, I’ve driven by it almost daily over the last two weeks on my way to Redwood City’s main post office (I have a big family, and thus have been doing a lot of shipping), so a walking visit to that one wasn’t necessary at this time.

First up, there are two projects on Vera Avenue that I’ve been keeping a close eye on. Thanks to the fact that each week, while driving our Meals on Wheels route, my wife and I find ourselves in the vicinity of the project at 112 Vera Avenue, I didn’t really need to pay it a visit. However, since I was there to see the other, nearby project I walked the extra block to take an updated photograph:

As you can probably tell, this site is very close to El Camino Real; it sits right behind a tire and auto shop. At one time there were five single-story duplexes on this lot (the two units in each duplex sat side-by-side, sharing one common wall), and the developer aimed to preserve them. In August of 2019 demolition began. Although the developer had hoped to preserve some of the buildings’ original structure, they quickly realized that the little buildings were too far gone. Thus, the buildings were stripped to their very foundations. For a very brief time some work was done to rehabilitate those foundations, but that work soon stopped, and the site has sat, just as it appears above, for months now.

I did some checking into the permit status of this project and learned that the building permit, which had been issued in May 2019, expired in August of 2020. However, digging a bit deeper revealed that reviews by the city continued after that date, with city engineers having signaled their approval of the plans in mid-October. So this “expired” permit may have indeed been renewed, and thus work may soon recommence. To further bolster that guess, I also noted that the developer has paid (or is slated to pay) some $96,000 in permit fees, which seems strong incentive to not just walk away from this project.

Just one block down, at 211 (and 217) Vera Avenue, is the site of a planned ten-unit townhouse-style condominium project. These townhouses will be three stories in height, with garages on the ground floor and living space on the upper two floors. The townhouses will be clustered into two buildings of five units each, which accounts for the project’s two addresses. In early 2019 the parcel was cleared, after which work began to run underground utilities to the location of each condominium. But not much has happened since then. This is what the site looks like today:

Looking to the permits tells the story: although the developer received the necessary permits for the work done this far, they didn’t receive their actual building permit — which is needed before actual construction can begin — until just a couple of weeks ago. This project, too, has a sign affixed to its construction fencing showing a rendering of the project, giving it a name (“Vera Townhomes”) and an estimated completion date of summer 2021 — although this particular sign is not new, having been on the fence since at least March:

To reach the next project, I walked out to El Camino Real and headed south. After walking nearly a mile I came to Center Street, which marks the main entrance to the Target shopping center. I turned right, and within that very first block, on my left, I came to this old, somewhat tired-looking house on the corner, where Center and Linden streets intersect:

This house sits on a fairly large parcel: at 96 feet deep and 100 feet wide, it is .22 acres in size. Run-down houses on large lots are catnip to a developer, so it’s no wonder that a project is in the works. In this case, the project, which was approved by the Planning Commission in September 2019, will result in seven townhouse-style condominiums taking the place of this one house. Like the previous project, they would be organized into two buildings separated by a driveway, which in this case would be accessed from Linden Street. Four of the units would face Center Street while the remaining three would face the neighboring property — which happens to be the rear portion of Redwood City’s Budget Inn.

This project first came to my attention back in March of 2018, at which time I made an effort to take a couple of “before” photographs of the house you see above. Since the project was approved…nothing. But a quick check of the permits for this project revealed that the developer didn’t even apply for the permits until just about two weeks ago. Thus, it’ll be a while — months, most likely — before the permits are issued, after which I expect the project to finally get underway. The fact, however, that the developer has actually applied for the permits indicates that they do indeed intend to go forward with this project, so I count this one, too, as “stayin’ alive.”

Next up, I headed down Center Street and crossed El Camino Real. I then zig-zagged through the shopping center parking lot to the left side of the Target building, where today there is a rather nice Mi Rancho Supermarket. That supermarket sits at 150 Charter St., which is the proposed site of our next project.

I first wrote about this project back in March of 2019 (in my post Homing In), just after this project appeared on the city’s Development Projects list. The proposal is for a four-story, 72-unit condominium complex. Most of the units would have three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms plus the various public spaces (living room, kitchen, etc.) scattered over three floors. A handful of the units would be smaller, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms all organized on a single level.

Although this project was proposed in March of 2019, the developer submitted updated plans to the city at the end of May 2020. While the city’s Architectural Advisory Committee held a study session on this project last September, that is as far as this project has gotten. It still needs approval by either the Planning Commission or the City Council (I’m not entirely sure which). Assuming it receives the necessary approvals — likely in 2021 — it would be at least a year after that before the project actually gets underway. So, although there is no visible on-site progress on this project, either, it is following the normal path through the process. While I cannot predict whether this one will make it all the way to a groundbreaking, for now at least this project is very much alive.

The last project on my list is the one that I didn’t visit on foot this week: the proposed four-story, 90-room Holiday Inn Express & Suites hotel to be built in place of Redwood City’s Garden Motel at the corner of Broadway and Beech Street (this project is not to be confused with the other recently approved hotel project in Redwood City: a four-story, 91-room hotel at the corner of Veterans Boulevard and Brewster Avenue). Today the rather tired 18-room Garden Motel looks like this:

This particular project was proposed back in May 2017, and was approved by the Planning Commission in October of that same year. Two years then elapsed with no activity. If a developer doesn’t get their project underway within two years of approval, the city rescinds that approval and requires the developer to go back through the approval process. That is what happened with this project, with the developer resubmitting a revised version of the project — now at five stories — to the Planning Commission. That re-approval came in March of 2019.

In going over the building permits for this project, I see that they applied for a variety of permits in March, May, and June of this year. Those permits have yet to be issued, however, which accounts for the lack of activity on site so far. Building permits, especially for a project of this complexity, require a great deal of scrutiny and thus can be expected to take quite a while to approve. So despite a lack of visible activity, this project appears to be still on track: it, too, is “stayin’ alive.”

As it turns out, all of these projects are indeed very much alive, even though there is little or no visible activity on any of their sites. I wouldn’t be surprised to see all of them, except for the one at 150 Charter St. (by Target), get underway in 2021. Thus, we have four projects likely to be in active development within Redwood City in the year 2021 — and there may be one or two more. For comparison, only three seemed to have had their groundbreakings in 2020 (if you are wondering about all of the construction activity going on these days, nine projects got underway in 2019). So it is a safe bet that we Redwood City residents can expect to continue seeing construction activity around town through the next couple of years, at least. Stayin’ alive, indeed…

10 thoughts on “Stayin’ Alive

  1. The problem with the 12 unit townhouse at 120 El Camino known as the “One20Towns’ is that
    a BEAUTIFUL HEALTHY TREE will be cut down!
    The planning commission never seems to have a problem with cutting down healthy trees

  2. The garage of that tired looking house on the corner of Center and Linden used to be the voting precinct in the neighborhood. It was the first place I ever voted!

  3. Greg, do you know what’s happening with the exterior renovation at Forrester’s Hall on Middlefield Road? It looks like work has stalled – is it just because of the pandemic or something else? Thanks! We always enjoy reading your articles.


    • I don’t, but I’ll see what I can find out. I love that old building, and look at it every time I go by. Indeed, work appears to have stalled: the protective fabric around the scaffolding has been there for quite some time now…

      • Thanks! I love that building too. We used to go to Christmas parties for the Native Sons of the Golden West in that building. My father-in-law was a member. It had beautiful hardwood floors and a stage. I think we may have even attended dances there while in high school in the late 50s and early 60s.

      • I remember attending a fundraiser there one time — I think for one of my kid’s schools. That main hall was a beautiful space. I have to wonder if that hall remains, or if it was carved up into office space. That would be such a tragedy…

      • Thanks! That’s great. I’m wondering if we had had this conversation sooner maybe the work would have re-commenced sooner. Or, is it just a coincidence????

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