Going to Town(house)

This week I set out to visit some of Redwood City’s townhouse projects. Townhouse-style condominiums can be a great option for many homeowners. If you don’t mind living in close proximity to others, and sharing a wall or two with another homeowner, a townhouse has some solid advantages over a single-family home. I can speak to this with some experience: when my wife and I decided it was time to purchase our first home, we looked long and hard at single-family homes, but couldn’t find anything that met our requirements while remaining in our price range. Once we expanded our options, though, we soon realized that a townhouse would make the perfect “starter home” for us.

The one we ended up buying was brand-new, allowing us to focus on decorating without worrying about unexpected repair costs. As with most townhouses, ours was part of a condominium complex, so we did have monthly homeowner’s dues to pay. But those dues not only paid to maintain all of the common areas — which in our case included both a pool and an outdoor jacuzzi, in addition to all of the landscaping — they also paid to maintain the exterior of all of the buildings. Thus, by writing a monthly check (in addition to my mortgage payment) I didn’t have to worry about roofs or repainting or anything like that. And because we owned our townhouse, when we finally decided to make the move to a single-family home, we made a tidy profit (all of which we plowed into the house we were buying).

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a townhouse is “a tall, narrow, traditional row house, generally having three or more floors.” (An older, but still valid, definition of the word is “a house in a town or city belonging to someone who has another property in the country,” but for this post I’m sticking with the architectural definition, since that is how the word is most commonly used here in the Bay Area.) Being a row house, townhouses are attached to one or more similar units via shared walls. Units on the end only share one wall with another unit, whereas units in the middle share walls with the units on either side. The townhouses in our area pretty much all have garages on the ground floor, possibly along with some living space. It is very common to find all of the “public” living space on the second floor: the living room, dining room, kitchen, and a full or half bath. The top floor is generally reserved for bedrooms and bathrooms. Some townhouses have decks and/or balconies, but not all. And some even have rooftop decks, although that is less common. What townhouses do not have is much, if any, garden space. The complex itself may be well-landscaped, but that landscaping is on common space and is jointly owned by all of the townhouse owners.

Because townhouses are tall, with a relatively small footprint, they use land much more efficiently than single-family homes. For instance, I walked by the townhouse complex being built at the corner of Harrison and Cleveland. This complex, which is rapidly nearing completion, consists of five separate buildings containing a total of 17 townhouses. Prior to construction, the land upon which this complex now stands consisted of seven separate properties, containing seven single-family homes. Thus, this small housing development is more than doubling the number of homes on the property.

Here is a picture of the development from just two days ago:

All of the townhouses in this particular development have second-floor balconies, which is a nice touch. I also like how the developer has painted the units in a variety of colors so that they don’t look like monolithic blocks.

The units in this particular complex all have two car garages, and most have additional living space — either a bedroom or a den, plus a bathroom —  on the ground floor, off the main entry. This allows some of the units to have four full bedrooms. And with that extra bedroom or den being located on the ground floor away from the other bedrooms and the “public spaces,” it can make for a very nice home office.

The above picture shows a close-up of one of the driveways (which has yet to be poured) leading into the interior of the complex. With the exception of the one building along the back of the property, which sits along a back alley, the garages in the remaining four buildings are all accessed from these interior driveways.

The builder is in the wrap-up stages on this project: the buildings are largely complete, so work is now mostly focused on the driveways, walkways, landscaping walls, and the street. Currently the builder is repaving the adjacent section of Cleveland Street:

I took the above picture from Jefferson Avenue, looking down Cleveland Street. The work going on in the distance — from where the guy in the yellow vest is standing, and beyond — is the work being done for the townhouse project. The work in the foreground is a separate, city project to rebuild the intersection in the interests of improving pedestrian safety. But I’ll save discussion of that project for a later post.

The project being built at Cleveland and Harrison is a 17-unit complex. A somewhat larger complex is also just about wrapped up along El Camino Real at Hopkins Avenue: the 33-unit development being called Link 33. I’ve written about this project before; some of the units have some rather unconventional floor plans. But at least some of the units follow the conventional townhouse pattern. These units, for instance:

This building, which sits along Hopkins Avenue and faces the Burger King across the street, appears to be the last of the complex’s five buildings to be completed. It consists of three standard townhouses, each with three bedrooms and 2-1/2 baths. The units on either end are the largest in the complex, with some 1835 square feet of living space, while the one in the middle is a bit smaller, at 1,648 square feet. KB Home, the builder, is asking $1,471,000 for the two larger units, and $1,415,000 for the middle one.

If that is too rich for your blood, the complex has two smaller models, which can be found scattered throughout the complex’s other four buildings. The smallest model is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,150-square foot unit; it squeaks in at just under $1 million. Stepping up from that, there is also a somewhat larger (1,375 square feet) unit that also has two bedrooms and two bathrooms: KB Home is asking $1,155,000 for that one. But both of those, although appearing to be traditional townhouses from the outside, have all of their living space on a single floor above the garage level. Thus, you’d not only have neighbors on one (or both) sides of you, you’d also have neighbors either above or below you as well.

One project I’ve been watching for a long time is a ten-unit townhouse project slated for the corner of Vera Avenue and Adams Street. This project was approved by the Planning Commission in December of 2018, but the building permits weren’t issued until last December — two years later. I had almost given up on this project ever being built, but once the contractor received those permits, they got right to work. This week, when I walked by, the foundation slabs had been poured, and workers were putting up what I assume are forms for the concrete walls that will make up at least part of each unit’s ground floor:

This development will consist of two buildings, each containing five townhouses, with a central driveway. The garages will all face the central driveway, with the unit entrances facing the opposite way. Thus, five of the units will have entrances facing Vera Avenue, while entrances to the other five will face that yellowish two-story building at the left edge of the above photo.

The floor plans for the various models vary only in the small details: all have three bedrooms and two bathrooms on the third floor; living, dining, and kitchen spaces along with a walk-in pantry and half bath on the second floor; and a two-car garage, study, full bath, and laundry room on the ground floor.

At the northern end of town, yet another townhouse project has finally gotten underway. The property at 120 El Camino Real until recently was where you would find the old Mountain Mike’s Pizza building (which has been empty and deteriorating for a couple of years now, ever since Mountain Mikes moved north into San Carlos). Some months ago that building was torn down, and now, finally, work has begun in earnest to construct One20 Townhomes, a 12-unit townhouse complex that will look somewhat like the one recently completed next door, at 150 El Camino Real. When I paid a visit to the site this week, half of the property had been dug up, presumably so that a solid foundation could be put in place beneath one of the complex’s two buildings:

Note how far down the two white trucks (and the tractor) are; they’ve temporarily lowered this part of the property by several feet. As for what they are doing with all of the dirt they dug out of this half of the property, well, for now they’ve simply piled it up on the other half:

The complex’s 12 “luxury townhome residences” will range in size from about 1,400 square feet to just over 2,000 square feet. There will be only one of the 1,400-square-foot units, though: that one will have two-bedrooms and 2-1/2 bathrooms, and its two-car garage will have the cars arranged in tandem formation, nose-to-tail. The other eleven units, on the other hand, will have three bedrooms and 3-1/2 bathrooms, plus a more conventional garage arrangement with the two cars parked side-by-side. Note that one of those three bedrooms, and one of the full bathrooms, will be located on the ground floor along with the garage, again making it ideal for a home office in the event that a third bedroom isn’t needed. As for size, all eleven are generously proportioned, with sizes ranging from 1,876 to 2,074 square feet.

These four townhouse projects are just the ones currently under construction in Redwood City; there are more on the way. The city has already approved a seven-unit development for 31 Center Street (across El Camino Real from Target, and behind the retail buildings that front onto that part of El Camino Real), although demolition of the run-down house currently on that property has yet to get underway. Strada Investment Group is, of course, also about done with site preparation for their 131-unit townhouse complex on the bay side of Highway 101 along Redwood Creek; actual construction will likely commence very soon. And then there is the 10-unit condominium building being built at 910 Woodside Road. Although those units may not look like townhouses from the exterior — the single building’s design doesn’t give each unit a “row house” appearance — each of the units is laid out very much like a conventional townhouse. Finally, if those aren’t enough, there are a handful of additional projects in the pipeline, just waiting for city approval.

Townhouses aren’t for everyone. For one thing, their layouts typically mean stairs (although one proposed project, at 77 Birch Street, has options for individual elevators in each unit). As well, depending upon how they are built, the shared walls can mean that you may occasionally hear your neighbors. If you would like to have garden space of any kind, a townhouse is not for you. And if you want the exterior of your home to reflect your personal style, don’t buy a townhouse: the exterior appearance is controlled by the homeowner’s association. However, townhouses usually cost less than a comparable single-family home — sometimes, a lot less. And if you aren’t big on doing home maintenance, having at least some of it taken care of by a homeowner’s association is a big plus.

At the moment there are multiple opportunities for buying a brand-new unit. If you or anyone you know is looking to purchase a home in Redwood City, I recommend that you give some of these developments a look. You may just find that a townhouse is a good fit for your lifestyle.

I’ll get into this project more in the future when there are additional details to be scrutinized — the project just appeared on Redwood City’s Development Projects list, and details are rather scant — but the above rendering is for the “rehabilitation and addition to” the historic Sequoia Hotel, at the corner of Broadway and Main Street. The brief description of the project, which was included with the rendering you see above, says the following:

The proposal includes the restoration of its building façade and to its original boutique hotel use. The project includes three additional stories of guest rooms and a rooftop level bar to the existing three-story building. The building will include 83 hotel rooms, ground floor retail and restaurant space, rooftop bar, and basement amenities. As a designated historic resource, the project is to be reviewed to meet the Secretary of Interior Standards.

I’ve been waiting for this project to surface for some time. This design — especially the added upper floors — goes beyond what I expected, and appears to significantly alter the character of this classic building. But we have very little to go on, as yet, and we’ll need to hear from the Historic Resources Advisory Committee. Thus, I for one will withhold further judgement until I know more. On the plus side, though, I’m very pleased that the building would retain its main function, as a “boutique” hotel, and that it would retain its ground-floor retail and restaurants.

While I was out walking, I saw a couple of signs for Girl Scout cookies. Apparently, it’s that time of year again! Due to the pandemic the girls aren’t knocking on doors the way they often do, so those of us who like what the scouts are selling may need to make a bit of an effort to seek them out. Now to convince my wife…

8 thoughts on “Going to Town(house)

  1. Excited to see the Sequoia Hotel getting some much needed love…a lot less excited about the proposed design. Hopefully the concept evolves through design review to something a bit more sensitive to the original structure…or go the opposite direction and do something that is very clearly modern and different a’ la the Contemporary Jewish Museum in SF or the Reichstag Building in Germany. This in-between of semi-modern aesthetic with a similiar color palette to the original structure is disappointing.

  2. Hi Greg—this was a very informative overview.

    I thought the Sequoia Hotel is a SRO building, and I would assume this to be “affordable housing;” so I was surprised to see the proposed conversion to a market rate hotel. Any information on this, specifically, what would happen to current tenants?

  3. Great post as always! I was wondering if you knew what was happening at Chestnut & Spring st, just next to the SMC Roads Department building? When I drove by this week it seemed that an existing building had been removed but I didn’t get a good look.

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