From a Great Height

As promised in last week’s post, this week’s main topic is the proposed 2300 Broadway project. The folks behind this project — Tishman Speyer — submitted both a basic set of project plans and a “project narrative” to the city for review; both are on the web page dedicated to the project on the city’s website. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve spent some time going through both documents, and have spent some time walking and photographing the site. What follows are what I consider to be the most interesting aspects of the proposed project.

First off, 2300 Broadway occupies most of the block just across Hamilton Street from Courthouse Square in downtown Redwood City. Today the site is where you’ll find our downtown Chase Bank branch:

(The above photograph was taken from the corner of Broadway and Winslow Street; the sidewalk to the left runs down Winslow Street, while the sidewalk to the right follows Broadway.)

As you can see, the existing building is a small (its footprint is less than 10,000 square feet) two-story building that occupies close to one quarter of the 40,000 square foot parcel upon which it sits. The existing building is placed towards one corner of the parcel; the remainder is largely a paved parking lot. Along the perimeter of the parcel are a number of trees — mostly redwoods — with a small grove (six trees) on the corner of Broadway and Hamilton Street. Altogether, there are some 20 redwood trees on the property today.

Contrast the above with the proposed project, shown here in a rendering taken from the plans submitted to the city:

Except for one corner, the proposed building stretches to occupy pretty much every inch of the 40,000 square foot parcel. The one exception is that small redwood grove at the corner of Broadway and Hamilton: Tishman Speyer proposes to leave that grove and its six trees (visible against the right edge of the rendering, above). As for parking, it would all be located underground. The building you see above would sit atop a two-level underground garage that employs tandem parking — which likely means that there would be a valet — to squeeze in the requisite number of cars. Access to the garage would be from Winslow Street (the left side of the building in the above rendering).

Quick question: after looking at the rendering, how many stories would you say this building has? The design is clever in that it appears to be less tall than the building really is. In reality, this is a nine-story building that has a small “penthouse” on top, which contains the building’s mechanical equipment and room for entertaining. In the rendering you can just barely see the penthouse peeking out above the top floor of the building.

The building sports a number of terraces on different levels. The smallest terrace, at 354 square feet, would be located on the second floor, and would face the adjacent parcel — currently home to the county law library — and Winslow Street. On the third floor there would be a 750 square foot terrace; it would face the redwood grove, but would have views towards Hamilton Street (and Courthouse Plaza) as well. On the fourth floor, above the section extending towards Broadway in the above rendering, there would be a large, 5,280 square foot terrace. Lastly, atop the ninth floor, where the “penthouse” is located, there would be another large (5,544 square foot) terrace. The bulk of that terrace would be located on the Hamilton Street side of the building, making it a great place from which to see and hear the summer concerts (and other activities) that take place in Courthouse Square.

With the building occupying so much of its parcel, the developer is proposing an interesting way to add some landscaped outdoor space to the project: they’d like to permanently close off the one block of Hamilton Street adjacent to both the project and Courthouse Square (from Broadway to Marshall Street) and turn it into an urban park. Here is a picture of that block, today:

The following rendering showing roughly the same view. In it, Hamilton Street has become “Hamilton Green”: a public walkway and park.

Note the redwood grove (the tall trees in front of the building). As for the buildings on Courthouse Square, those are essentially obscured by the tree along the right edge of the rendering.

To get a better idea of how Hamilton Street would be transformed, take a good look at the following, which shows this block as it could look when viewed from a great height, during one of our regular summer concerts:

This rendering provides a clear view of how this part of Hamilton Street would be repurposed. It also shows how the new building would form an ‘L’ around the redwood grove. Not visible is the building’s main lobby, incidentally, which would be located behind the redwood trees, where the two wings of the building meet.

This rendering shows some of the building’s terraces. But note the red umbrellas at ground level alongside Hamilton Green: the plans show three retail or restaurant spaces on the building’s ground floor, and one of them would be located where those umbrellas are. A restaurant facing this new public space with outside seating would have a great deal of appeal, and would likely be a popular spot most afternoons and evenings — not just when a concert is underway. But of course that would depend upon who leases the 3,800 square foot space; it could turn out to be a retailer, rather than a restaurant.

The building’s other two retail spaces would be on the Broadway side; they’d be located in the three-story wing that extends to the sidewalk along Broadway. One of these retail spaces would be 5,000 square feet, while the other, smaller, space would be about 3,300 square feet in size.

I’ve made multiple mentions of the “penthouse” on the building’s top floor: this would include a small “event center” that, combined with the large tenth-floor terrace, would be used for a variety of functions. The bulk of the penthouse, however, would house many of the building’s mechanicals: heating and air conditioning equipment, water tanks for the fire suppression system, and the like.

The documents that Tishman Speyer has submitted to the city talk a lot about Hamilton Green. They also talk a lot about how the developer is “saving existing Coast Redwoods” by retaining the 5,000 square foot redwood grove — which indeed they are. What they don’t mention, though, is that they are eliminating 14 others. Today there are some 20 redwood trees on the site; if and when this project is built, just six would remain (plus any that they might plant in Hamilton Green, that is). These six:

Speaking of Hamilton Green, while it would add to our public open space, it would mean that cars could no longer drive along Hamilton Street from Winslow Street to County Center, as they can today. Of course, today’s Hamilton Street is only three blocks long, if you count the one-way portion that runs through County Center. And given that the portion running through the county’s property has been closed for some time due to construction, and, I believe, is not to be reopened, Hamilton Street’s usefulness as a road is already somewhat questionable — at least for driving. On the other hand, there are a number of parking spaces along the block of Hamilton Street that would be closed for this project; the city would have to decide whether the loss of those spaces could be absorbed elsewhere.

So far I’ve been focusing on the smaller issues with the project, and avoiding mention of what many will consider to be the elephant in the room: the building’s height. As I mentioned early on, the building is architected to make it appear less tall than it is. According to Redwood City’s Downtown Precise Plan (DTPP), at least part of this building could be as tall as 12 stories, or 136 feet. There is an informal understanding, however, that buildings around the Historic Courthouse should be no taller than the tip of that building’s dome — 112 feet. Just how high is the proposed 2300 Broadway building? Well, the developer will tell you that it is 111 feet to the top of the “solid parapet” — which is basically the ceiling of the ninth floor. However, this building has a rather substantial mechanical penthouse and event center above that. Although this “tenth floor” is set back so that it is less visible, the actual top of the building is 17 feet above the courthouse dome: 129 feet. This is pretty clearly illustrated in the plans submitted by Tishman Speyer:

(Click the above if you want to zoom in on it. And note that the 2300 Broadway building is shown in gray; the bit that appears to be in white is not part of it, but is actually the county building that sits behind it, on Marshall Street.)

For comparison, the nearby 601 Marshall building, which sits kitty-corner to Courthouse Square, is eight stories tall — 105 feet. That building contains 124,000 square feet of space, compared to the building being proposed for 2300 Broadway, which would contain nearly double that amount: 235,000 square feet of space, 12,000 of which would be for the three retail or restaurant spaces. Given how the building extends the full width of the block upon which it sits (as viewed from Broadway), this building has the potential to feel very large, and will visually dwarf the Historic Courthouse.

I’ll be the first to admit that the current site is well underutilized; with nearly three quarters of the site being given over to surface parking, and with only a small two-story building occupying much of the rest, this parcel (and its neighbor, the county law library site) doesn’t fit in well with its surroundings. But if it is underutilized today, one could make a case for the proposed building making it, well, is there such a word as “overutilized”?

Lastly, the design is very functional, but doesn’t seem very interesting. While I appreciate any efforts to reduce the apparent height of the building, the designer has made absolutely no effort to reflect some of the historic character exemplified by its nearby neighbors — in particular, the historic courthouse and the Fox Theatre, both of which are within steps of this proposed building. Compare the proposed 2300 Broadway building with the nearby 601 Marshall (shown below, when it was still under construction). That building made clear efforts to incorporate materials and architectural features taken from the historic courthouse. The result is an eight-story office building that actually looks like it belongs in Redwood City. 2300 Broadway, on the other hand, while not a bad looking building, could be plopped down in any major city, and it would fit in just as well — possibly better — than it does here.

Fortunately, the plans the developer has shared so far are just a first incarnation of 2300 Broadway’s design. As the proposal goes through architectural review, then Planning Commission review, and finally City Council review, it will likely change along the way. I, for one, will be watching it go through those reviews with great interest.

As I mentioned in my previous two posts, the Sequoia Hotel project and 2300 Broadway are two of the three projects to appear on Redwood City’s Development Projects list within the last couple of weeks. The third is an altogether different sort of project: an eight-unit townhouse development proposed for 955 Woodside Road.

The 955 Woodside Townhomes project is just the latest in a string of small townhouse projects being proposed or built in Redwood City. This particular one would be located on a lot that previously was home to the Alta Wood Animal Hospital (which appears to have gone out of business) — and to a dirt lot that appears to have been used for storage of vehicles and equipment by Honey Bear Trees. This site:

Standing on Woodside Road and facing the site, on the left is the Auto Pride Car Wash. On the right is a dental office. While this may not seem like an ideal property for a residential project, I should note that there is a ten-unit condominium project under construction almost directly across the street, and there is a surprising amount of housing up and down Woodside Road (mostly apartment buildings, such as the four-story apartment building at 926 Woodside Road). Plus, directly behind the project site is a large apartment complex called “The Enclave.”

As you can see from the previous photograph, this is another Redwood City parcel that is currently underutilized. No wonder, then, that a developer has snapped it up and proposed doing something more useful with it. Plans calls for two buildings, each of which would contain four townhouse-style condominiums. One of the buildings would lie along the rear of the property, while the other would sit end-on to Woodside Road, on the side farthest away from the car wash. The driveway into the small complex would run along the left side of the property, close to the parcel’s boundary with the car wash property (about where that truck is parked in the above photo).

As for the buildings, they would each look just about what you would expect a four-unit townhouse building to look like:

Townhouses, of course, are condominiums in which all of the unit’s living space is arranged vertically. Here, each unit’s ground floor would include a two-car garage and the unit’s main entry — which is large enough to serve as a bonus room — and, in a couple of the units, a half-bathroom. The second floor would be where the unit’s living room, dining room, and kitchen are located (along with a half-bath), along with a small deck (visible in the rendering, above). Finally, the top floor of each unit would contain the unit’s three bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus the laundry closet (and, in the case of one model, another small deck). In terms of size, depending upon the model, the townhouses would range from 1,739 square feet up to 1,876 square feet — a comfortable amount of room, I’ve found.

Overall, this is a pretty run-of-the-mill project, one that likely will gain approval with little pushback. If you are looking for housing of this type, keep this project in mind (and compare it with the many other townhouse projects being built in Redwood City at the moment — including 120 El Camino Real, 601 El Camino Real, 211 Vera St., and, if it actually gets off the ground, 31 Center St.). And if you aren’t, well, now at least you won’t have to wonder what is going on as you drive by on Woodside Road.

10 thoughts on “From a Great Height

  1. Pingback: Plant a Garden | Walking Redwood City

  2. Well written as usual! I object to the proposed MASS of a structure in this location. It will cast a long shadow on the Courthouse Square and surroundings. It feels like a an alien intrusion into downtown, with no effort to homage the architecture nearby.

  3. Great article! I love your blog so much, a real treat for fellow rwc citizens to keep up with local goings-ons.

    I agree with everyone here in that it feels just a little too greedy and rushed by the developer to maximize profits and to visually arrest and absorb eyesight. Should be toned down, historically-attentive and include saving more redwoods into the design.

    Oh, not that it’s a huge deal, but in the Lastly paragraph, there’s a typo of “makde” – “The designer makde absolutely no attempt…” But typos are super rare on your site. Like 95% less than the rest of the internet.

  4. My initial reaction to the proposal was negative, but I refrained from commenting until I could take a closer look in person.
    I drove and walked around this block yesterday to see how this tall building would fit in, and I concluded that it should not go onto this site. It’s not a good fit.
    First, the building is too tall. Nothing should be taller than the courthouse building if it lies to the side or front of it. The buildings to the backside along Marshall St can be taller, but the vibe of the courthouse square would be affected with buildings taller than the courthouse.
    Second, more redwood trees should be preserved. There aren’t many tall redwood trees left in the downtown core, and this little block has a feel for a mini-grove, even if it’s just a bank and parking lot. They city should try to preserve as many as possible.
    Third, I do not like having Hamilton St, between Marshall and Broadway, closed off. I think this green space is a ruse by the developer to maximize the square footage of their land and for removing so many trees. Since the law library is not included in this plan, they actually have only 2/3 of the block, and the building proposal is just too massive for this site.
    There are street parking spaces on both sides of Hamilton St, and these would be lost. How many Friday night summer concerts are there in a year? The city can temporarily close off the street during these concerts if they like, but to permanently close the street is just giving a gift to the developer. I hope the city rejects this plan.

    • Here! Here! Or is it Hear! Hear! I agree whole heartedly that the developer should keep more of those healthy Redwood trees on this site, the building is too tall for this location & will cause more shadowing and overshadow out jewel of our historic Courthouse! I hope the City rejects the building. I do like the idea of more open space of Hamilton Green but it should not be for in exchange for the other Redwood trees!
      Again, thanks for keeping us informed and I look forward to more 🙂

  5. Very informative; thank you! I appreciate the even-handed accounting of impacts and the context of what things look like now, which is often hard to get from newspaper stories. I have trouble getting upset by the set-back penthouse being higher than the courthouse dome – at street level that’s less visually oppressive than just the sheer height of the building.

    As a resident who only goes downtown for recreation the Hamilton Green idea appeals to me and I’d be fine with more streets closed to auto traffic, but I know I don’t know what the impacts are on delivery to retail and restaurants.

    Also wonder whether we could bury some more parking under the proposed Hamilton Green, if we’re tearing up all the pavement anyway.

  6. Great write up. I like the idea of 2300 Broadway being redeveloped as well as the concept of closing off Hamilton. I like how the proposed retail spaces would engage with this portion of downtown. I also agree with all your criticism. As you mentioned this is a very early conceptual proposal. Like the Sequoia Hotel proposal I’m hopefully that the final design develops into something more appealing. For me the main issues would be height, massing, and aesthetics, all of which I feel need more of a refining then a complete change. This proposals feels closer to being acceptable, to me at least, than the Sequoia Hotel (who’s concept I love, so I do hope they can come up with an appealing proposal).

  7. Two comments.

    I think I remember that 601 Marshall had to lower it’s height – though I’m not sure. Maybe put a floor underground. I could be confusing it with another project.

    What will happen to Honey Bear?!

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