The Best Laid Plans

For some time now I had been planning to write about the recently approved 150 Charter Street project this week. I still will, but wouldn’t you know it, early in the week I opened Redwood City’s Development Projects webpage and was greeted by yet another brand-new project submission. Well, sort-of brand new: a version of this project was proposed for the site (1330 El Camino Real; the block where Record Man and Happy Donuts are today) back when the city conducted its Gatekeeper Projects review process. Since then the developer seems to have been refining their design, and has come up with something rather different looking. But I’ll get to that in a bit; allow me first to wax eloquently about 150 Charter Street.

Charter Street, in case it doesn’t ring any bells, is a short (two blocks long) street that begins at El Camino Real and dead-ends into the Caltrain tracks. It runs parallel to Woodside Road, and marks the northern edge of the Target shopping center property. If you’ve spent any time at the Target store you might have noticed its next-door neighbor, currently located at 150 Charter St: the Mi Rancho Supermarket.

If you haven’t noticed it, though, you likely are not alone. The market is set back against the tracks, and is well away from Target’s front entrance. It is surrounded on two sides (the front, and the side facing the Target building) by a great deal of parking. As you can see from the above photo, it is a rather nice looking market. And based on the number of cars in the parking lot when I was there, it is a popular one. Unfortunately, this market will have to be torn down to make way for the housing project that was recently approved by Redwood City’s Planning Commission.

Replacing the market and all of the parking immediately surrounding it would be a large building consisting of 72 townhouse-style for-sale condominiums mostly standing atop a one-story, ground-level parking garage. The building is intended to look something like this:

I should note that the above rendering shows the new building as it would appear from Charter Street. The market, however, faces El Camino Real. Thus, the main facade shown in the rendering is somewhat equivalent to the market’s left side wall, which you can just see a bit of in the photograph I included earlier.

As you can probably tell from the rendering, the ground floor of the building is largely, but not entirely, consumed by the parking garage. Along the Charter Street side of the building there are a handful of single-story condominiums on the ground floor, masking the view of the garage that sits immediately behind. That garage has room for 164 cars, 8 motorcycles, and 30 bicycles. Of the vehicular parking spaces, 144 are intended for resident parking, implying that each unit may get two parking spaces. Sixty-five of those spaces are arranged in tandem (nose-to-tail) fashion, which can make things a bit inconvenient at times. However, each set of two tandem spaces are presumably controlled by the same household, meaning that no one will have to worry about having their car blocked by a neighbor.

In addition to the 144 resident spaces, the garage also would contain 18 guest parking spaces and two “loading/short-term” spaces. Sixteen of the garages’s 164 spaces would be “clean air/EV spaces” (presumably, there will be an EV charger in those spaces) and eight are accessible spaces. Finally, close to the side of the building that faces the Caltrain tracks, the garage contains what appears to be a secure room that has sufficient space for the long-term storage of 30 bicycles. There are also eight “short-term” spaces for bicycles along the sidewalk, close to the building’s main entrance on the Charter Street side.

The garage is organized with two main aisles running the length of the building, and paralleling Charter Street. Driveways on both the west and east sides of the building (one between the building and the Caltrain tracks, the other between the building and the remainder of the Target shopping center parking lot) would provide access to those aisles. In the rendering shown above, the western driveway and one of the garage entry doors is visible along the right edge of the image.

The seven ground-floor units that face Charter Street are all two-bedroom, two-bathroom units. Each has about 990 square feet of space on a single level, with a private entrance directly from the sidewalk along Charter Street. The remaining units, which are all three-story townhouses, stand on top of the parking garage and are accessible via a main staircase which originates between two of the ground-floor units along Charter Street. Residents can also make use of a central elevator or a couple of perimeter staircases that connect the parking garage to the building’s second floor, where the individual entrances to the three-story townhouses are located.

All of the townhouses are similar in arrangement, with the public spaces (kitchen, living room, dining room, half bath) located on the entry floor, and the bedrooms and two full bathrooms located on the upper two floors. The sizes of the units vary, depending upon where they are located within the development, but go up to about 1,550 square feet. Many have private decks, although some of those are quite small (and some are on the ground floor, while others have them on an upper floor).

This development is not located within easy walking distance of Caltrain — it is about 1.2 miles from the Redwood City Caltrain station — but is within an easy walk of a lot of good shopping and dining. Cycling is an option as long as there is a “back way” into downtown; most agree that riding along El Camino Real currently is not safe (that would change if Redwood City ever manages to get the fully separated bike lanes added to El Camino Real). There is good bus service to the site, though: buses regularly run up and down El Camino Real. Using SamTrans it is a short and easy trip from the project site to Redwood City’s Caltrain station and its downtown. So there is hope that a lot of the cars that would be parked in this project’s garage would not actually be spending a lot of time on Redwood City’s roads.

Finally, one of the project’s biggest challenges is its proximity to the Caltrain tracks: the noise from the many trains that would be passing by very close to this project is likely to be a real nuisance. Fortunately, the developer has considered this and has implemented a number of noise-reduction measures, including sound walls and water features (which produce “white noise” that helps diminish the effect of outside sounds). Assuming that this project gets built as planned, I hope to someday gain entrance to the development’s center courtyards, to hear for myself how effective those measures actually are.

Before I close out my discussion of the 150 Charter Street project, I need to mention that of its 72 units, 11 will be affordable at the Moderate income level. A family of four could earn no more than $209,000 per year if they hope to qualify (the upper limit for a couple would be $167,000). Given the number of people falling into those earnings brackets, these 11 affordable units will undoubtedly be quite popular. And because these are ownership units (and not for-rent), the qualifying households who get these units will have made the jump to home ownership, with all of the benefits that entails. I was very pleased to hear the developer state that the affordable units would be no different from the market-rate ones, meaning that someone purchasing a subsidized unit would be getting something every bit as good as what those paying the full rate would get.

This project has a great deal to recommend it. It is notable for not being located within Redwood City’s downtown, and is likely indicative of a future trend in which more and more high-density housing projects are built in other parts of the city. Expect to see more of this kind of thing along Woodside Road, for instance. 

For now, most of the new housing proposals continue to be located in downtown Redwood CIty. The newest, which I alluded to at the beginning of this post, would wipe out most of the buildings on the west side of El Camino Real between Jackson and Madison Avenues — all but the building at the corner of El Camino Real and Jackson Avenue, which is currently slated to be torn down and be replaced by an affordable multi-story housing project that would be constructed along with the various office and apartment buildings Greystar has received approval to build on the east side of El Camino Real where Hopkins Acura and Towne Ford operate today. The rest of the properties facing El Camino real between those two streets, though, along with at least one property behind the donut shop at the corner of El Camino Real and Madison Avenue, would go, to be replaced by this:

For the record, here is what stands there today:

Happy Donuts (on the left), Cycle Gear (a shop that sells motorcycle parts and accessories) and The Record Man, plus some on-site parking lots. The Record Man sells vinyl records, and has been operating out of that location for some time now. They continue to operate there today, incidentally, due to some combination of good luck and the Redwood City Fire Department:

I took the above picture just nine days ago — on May 12 — not long after the fire had occurred. Thankfully things didn’t get too far out of hand.

Getting back to the project currently dubbed “Record Man” — which I should point out is newly proposed, and thus has yet to be considered, much less approved, by the city — the idea is to construct a six-story, 130-unit apartment building. All of the building’s parking would be located on a single subterranean level; it would utilize automobile stackers to squeeze the required number of cars (only 109, for those 130 apartments) into that limited space. The building’s ground floor would then contain many of the building’s amenities — its lobby, its bike room and dog wash, and its two gardens (one of which is labeled “community garden”) — along with a number of apartments. The building’s upper floors would consist primarily of apartments, although they would also contain additional amenities, such as a “Theater Room,” a workout room, and lounges. On the building’s rooftop there would not only be a large shared rooftop deck (roughly 4,000 square feet in size) but also a number of photovoltaic panels to help offset some of the building’s electricity use.

The vast majority of this building’s apartments appear to be studios, although there also are a few larger units, going up to 3 bedrooms in size. A small number of the apartments will have private balconies, although most will have to content themselves with the shared rooftop space.

The look of this building is somewhat unusual; I’ll be curious to see if it changes as the developer works their way through the city’s approval process. One thing that likely won’t change is the number of affordable apartments: this project has 26 of those (20% of the building’s units, as required by the city), at various affordability levels. Seven will be for those at the Very Low income category, with another six being affordable at the Low level (the remaining 13 would be held for those earning at the Moderate level). No dates have yet been set for review of this project; it likely will be some time before this building comes before either the Planning Commission or the City Council.

15 thoughts on “The Best Laid Plans

  1. Pingback: One of These Days… | Walking Redwood City

  2. Great writing and info as always! Given that by 2035 all new vehicles in CA need to be electric, and our desire to fight climate change, shouldn’t these new buildings be required to make the parking spaces EV ready?

  3. Regarding the first project you describe, on Charter Street. Would this affect the continued operations of Redwood City Auto Body at 67 Charter? I would hate to see their business threatened. They are really excellent!

  4. A family of four with moderate income makes $209k and a couple makes $167k? Wow! That is so sad. $209k in 90% of the rest of the country is a fortune and here it qualifies you for special consideration.

  5. And by the way, thank you for the write up Greg. I always learn something new from reading these posts.

  6. There is a decent “back way” into downtown from the Charter St. project either on foot or by bicycle. Take Shasta St, which is a block from the project and subsequently connects with Main St at the Feed Shed. Once there, pedestrians and bicyclists are taking an efficient hypotenuse route into the core of downtown.

  7. While I applaud the developers for attempting to be different with some of the details on the record man proposal, I feel they missed the mark. As it stands it’s not a particularly attractive building and will age poorly. With that said I looked at the past work of the architect of record and I’m hopeful they’ll refine the design to something more appealing. They’ve done a handful of attractive looking single and multi-family projects on the east bay as well as locally. It’s worth noting it would be constructed using prefabricated units which I find fascinating.

    With the target plaza being up-zoned a year or so ago I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before that whole area near the charter street complex gets redeveloped.

      • Interesting…I wouldn’t mind if Target relocated to the old Cost Plus location and opened a small format store. Maybe the area can support two Targets similar to Cupertino where there’s a small format store relatively close to a large footprint store along Stevens Creek Blvd.

        El Camino between Jefferson all the way to the current Target Plaza is probably going to see a lot of changes in the next decade.

      • Another site Target could consider relocating to, if they needed to, is the shuttered Kmart site on Veterans Blvd. I don’t see any activity there.

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