One of These Days…

One of these days I’ll again be able to write a blog post that doesn’t include a new or significantly updated major development proposal. Not this week, though: today I have two of them.

Just one month ago, I covered the massive Redwood LIFE proposal (for Redwood Shores). Then, two weeks ago I wrote about not only the housing project proposed for 150 Charter St. (next to Target), but also the large housing project proposed for the Record Man site on El Camino Real. And last week it was the giant office-and housing project proposed for 1900 Broadway (the downtown Wells Fargo Bank site) and the smaller office project, with offsite affordable housing, proposed for 601 Allerton St. (where the Social Security Administration has their local offices). This week? An updated proposal for the Sequoia Station property, plus the official project submission for American Legion Post 105’s large housing project (with an embedded American Legion facility) on their current El Camino Real property. Maybe next week things will be quieter and I’ll be able to present some of the smaller things I continue to notice as I walk around the city, but not this week…

Although I wrote about the proposal for the Sequoia Station site back when the project was presented as part of the city’s Gatekeeper Process project reviews, the project has undergone a number of changes since then, in an effort to make it more palatable to the city. Although the project is likely to see further refinements as the proposal works its way through the city’s review process, it is likely that what we are seeing today is largely what we will end up with, assuming that the project gets approved — which, given its size and scope, is by no means a certainty. One thing the developer has done in the project’s favor is to continually increase the number of housing units — both market rate and affordable — included within the project, to the point where they seem to have maxed out what is economically feasible for the site. As they note in the documents they’ve submitted to the city thus far, “the site cannot economically accommodate any more housing without either adding more office density or losing significant community benefits.”

As it now stands, the project’s developer, Lowe, is proposing that they put nearly all parking in a giant two-level underground garage. Along with a bit more parking buried within two of the buildings, the site would have enough parking for whopping 2,170 cars, all neatly hidden away from sight. (There would also be space for more than 300 bicycles.) With the parking neatly out of the way, Lowe then envisions replacing today’s strip center with six (or five, depending upon how you are counting) buildings, all with retail on the ground floor and either offices or residences above.

The site plan calls for extending Franklin Street completely through the property (and making it very bike friendly), and running Hamilton Street into the middle of the site from El Camino Real. Like this:

For orientation, El Camino Real runs across the bottom of the above image, with Jefferson Avenue on the right and the Caltrain tracks across the top (note that the connection to downtown would remain). The street running left-to-right through the center of the property is the new Franklin Street; it would intersect with Jefferson Avenue at the existing signalized intersection where Franklin Street and the entrance to Sequoia Station are today. Within the site there would be a traffic circle where Franklin and the new segment of Hamilton Street would intersect; note how Hamilton comes up from El Camino Real (but does not cross it). Hamilton Street would end here at that traffic circle; between it and the Caltrain tracks would be a large (38,200 square foot) “Hamilton Square,” a public open space with seating, games, and outdoor seating for restaurants.

The white blocks in the above image represent the largest part of the footprint of the various buildings. The two on the left are the residential buildings (again, with retail on the ground floor) and the ones to the right of Hamilton Street would be the office buildings. The two office towers that would rise up along El Camino Real would sit atop new CVS and Safeway stores (with loading docks in between; that’s the gray somewhat Y-shaped area separating them). The large white block towards the right rear would be a single building at ground level, but would support two towers above that. This building would have a number of retail spaces fronting both Franklin Street and Hamilton Square, and would include a 10,000 square foot childcare center on the ground-floor side facing Jefferson Avenue.

In total, the four office towers would total some 1.23 million square feet of office space. The two residential buildings, on the other hand, would contain 631 housing units (rental apartments, I assume), of which a full 40% would be affordable at levels ranging from Very Low to Moderate. As for the sizes of those affordable units, they would range from studios all the way up to three-bedroom units, making many of them good candidates for families struggling to find housing that they can afford. The project’s estimated 234 affordable units puts this project in a class by itself: this project would be Redwood City’s largest single affordable housing project.

I should note that although Lowe is the project’s primary developer, they’ve partnered with Eden Housing for the affordable housing component of this project.

Assuming that this project is approved — after a process that will take years, I should note — actual construction will be a bit tricky, given that Lowe has committed to keeping the Safeway and CVS stores open during the process. Thus, they would presumably develop the front (along El Camino Real) half of the property first, where Safeway and CVS would have their new homes. Only when those two stores have moved to their new digs would the back half of the property then be constructed. Note that since the final project envisions a two-level underground garage that is nearly the size of the entire property, that garage would also have to be constructed in phases.

I also should note that the retail spaces facing Hamilton Square at the base of the left-hand residential building — some 25,000 square feet in total — are intended to be leased for “family entertainment” uses. Lowe is planning for a “family-oriented retail tenant that will front the plaza to directly address the need for family and youth activities.” As for the plaza (Hamilton Square) itself, they say they are “envisioning activities such as bocce, billiards and bowling, shuffleboard, fire pits and a sandbox, a water feature, and a play structure — all around indoor and outdoor dining and hopefully with a brew pub.” They are even realistic enough to understand that a “family-oriented retail tenant” is not going to be able to pay a market-rate rent; Lowe intends to provide rent subsidies to encourage the kind of tenant that would be appropriate for this space.

Regretfully, the plan they have provided thus far only contains conceptual renderings that merely give a flavor of what they have in mind. We’ll have to wait for a future submission to get some that are truly representative of what Lowe might actually build. But since the conceptual ones are all we have thus far, I’ll include a couple of them here (but do take them with a grain of salt).

The following shows one idea of what the office building that would sit atop the new Safeway store might look like from El Camino Real:

This one, on the other hand, envisions what one of the residential buildings might look like:

Again, these are not meant to be accurate representations of what the buildings would actually look like.

Certainly, this project would be a massive change from what we have in Sequoia Station today. Although I’m sure there will be a lot of pushback from members of the public on the amount of office space that this project would contain, it seems hard to argue against the sheer number of housing units — especially those affordable ones — and the generous amount of retail space (almost 167,000 square feet) that would be present on site. Coupled with the outdoor spaces, which are far more attractive than the tiny plaza we have today, I can see this being a very attractive space in which to spend time.

One question I do have is what would all of this really look like from across the tracks? One of the biggest complaints about today’s Sequoia Station is how it “turns its back on downtown Redwood City.” The planned Hamilton Square, and the adjacent connector that would smooth the way for pedestrians to move between Sequoia Station and downtown Redwood City, are clearly meant to help tie this new development to downtown, but is it enough to lure people in from the downtown side of the tracks? The plans do include one rendering that kind-of gives us an idea:

(Note Courthouse Square at the bottom of the image.) This painting, however, makes assumptions about a number of properties that Lowe doesn’t control. Plus, without knowing just what the future has in store for the Caltrain tracks through this part of town (for instance, if they are elevated, they would act as a wall between downtown and the Sequoia Station redevelopment) mine is probably not a question that we can answer at this time. But I’m throwing it out there to make sure that this particular question is properly addressed at some point in the future.

The Sequoia Station redevelopment proposal is a lot to consider. But as I noted earlier, it isn’t the only one the city will be reviewing in the future: just today — on Friday, June 4 — I pulled up Redwood City’s Development Projects webpage and saw that the proposal for the housing project on American Legion Post 105’s land had officially been submitted to the city as well. This project, which primarily consists of housing, would also have embedded with in it facilities enabling the American Legion to continue hosting functions and serving their constituency.

Today, the American Legion post is housed in a single-story building along El Camino Real between Brewster and Hopkins avenues that occupies only a fraction of their property:

The only other building on their land is an old house; most of the remainder is a paved parking lot:

(The eagle-eyed among you may note that this is an older picture; that building on the left was part of the old Honda dealership. It has of course since been replaced by a 33-unit condominium development). 

Here is what the American Legion would like to build instead of the two buildings I’ve just shown you:

Except for a driveway that would encircle the building on three sides (providing access to the building’s parking garage, and enabling fire trucks to access all four sides of the building), this eight-story building would occupy the entirety of the site.

Parking would be located in a single-level underground garage, as well as within the first two floors of the building. Above that, six floors would contain the building’s 300 for-rent apartments. Along El Camino Real on the ground floor would be the replacement American Legion facility: this would consist of a double-height, 3,847-square-foot American Legion hall (with stage), plus a bar and a commercial kitchen. These spaces, I should note, would be rentable for community functions, and thus would be a nice community benefit.

The building is essentially a hollow block: the center of the building forms an open courtyard into which a number of the apartments would look. That courtyard, which would be located on the third floor atop the two internal parking levels, would have a number of spaces where the residents could be outside in relative privacy. Two community rooms, a lounge, and a health & fitness center would also be located on this level; they would all open onto the courtyard, expanding their usability.

The apartments within this building are particularly interesting. Not only would more than 22% of its units (68 in total) be affordable at the Very Low, Low, and Moderate income levels, veterans would be given preference for those units. And in an effort to reduce the cost of housing for many of the building’s tenants, of the 300 total apartments, 64 of them are “micro studios” (some market-rate, some affordable). These micro-studio apartments would be less than 400, but at least 300, square feet in size. Smaller units allow the builder to squeeze more into a given space, and allow the building’s owner to charge less per month. Although we don’t yet have floor plans for any of this project’s units — I’m really curious to see how a 300-some-odd-square-foot apartment is to be laid out — for a single person without a great many possessions, that should be enough space. As for those who need more space and can afford to pay more, the building also plans on having larger studios, as well as one- and two-bedroom units. Although none of the two bedroom units are subsidized so as to be affordable, 23 of the one bedroom units are (and those range in size up to just under 700 square feet).

For a somewhat refreshing change, the parking within this building will almost all be conventional: no stackers to squeeze multiple cars into the space normally needed for one, and only 17 tandem spaces in total, all of which will be set aside for the two-bedroom apartments (so that the only cars that could be blocked by another would be from the same household). However, given the amount of affordable housing within the building, and its proximity to transit (it is a pretty easy walk from here to Redwood City’s Transit Center), the builder needs only supply one parking space for every two apartments. Thus, the residents of the 300 apartments will have to contend with a planned 160 parking spaces. The garage will have an additional 90 spaces — for a total of 250 — but those are reserved for the American Legion post. Oh, and two secure storage rooms would provide room for 154 bicycles.

As with the Sequoia Station project, the American Legion proposal makes far better use of the site than what is there today. The housing that this project would provide is certainly something we desperately need, and it does so on a site that is well located, being not only close to transit but also within fairly easy walking distance of shopping and Redwood City’s downtown. Because of all that, for this project in particular I suspect that the seeming lack of parking spaces may well not be an issue.

Both of these projects would make a big impact on Redwood City. But of course they are not the last that we’ll be seeing: there still remain a couple more “Gatekeeper Process” projects that have yet to be officially submitted to the city. So don’t be surprised if, one of these days (perhaps as soon as next week) I bring you more…

Allow me to end with a reminder that Encore Books on the Square, which has been closed for the last year+ due to COVID-19, is reopening — only on Saturdays for the moment — starting this Saturday, June 5. This terrific used bookstore, which is located beneath the historic courthouse on Courthouse Square (down the ramp to the left of the courthouse steps) will be open from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The bookstore serves as a funding vehicle for the history museum within the courthouse building, and does so by selling freely donated used books at incredibly low prices. I should note that for the moment they are not yet taking donations, but hold onto any you may have: they’ll likely begin accepting them again soon. I do believe that they are looking for volunteers to help staff the place, so if you have the time and the inclination, drop by and talk to them about it.

If you’ve never been inside, the store is surprisingly large, and very well stocked. They sell all kinds of books, most in really good condition. I’ve purchased a great many books from them over the years (and have donated many as well), and look forward to once again being able to shop there. I’m planning on paying them a visit this Saturday; if you have no other plans, consider heading to Courthouse Square and visiting them yourself. It really is one of Redwood City’s hidden gems…

12 thoughts on “One of These Days…

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  3. Where on God’s green earth are they supposing all these units’ water needs will be met when we’re in a drought already and asked to conserve 15% of our current water usage? And our household has been using grey water on plants for years…. And there’s countless new buildings going up all up and down the El Camino as far as the eye can see. ??? Including one that’s about to block out all our windows on the corner of Hudson & Lincoln.

    • Lack of water is a bad faith argument. The people who will live in these new apartments will still use the same amount of water if they live somewhere else. If we don’t build housing in the Bay Area (especially near our transit centers), it forces people to move further away to places like the central valley. This extends their commute time and forces them to rely on their car as their only means of transportation, which makes traffic worse and increases carbon emissions.
      Projects like this (dense housing next to rail & bus centers) are a critical piece to addressing the climate crisis.

  4. I am really excited about these two developments. Sequoia Station in its current form is a huge waste of space. This development has the opportunity to expand our downtown and improve our transit center.

    Have you heard/seen any updates on the 101 Pedestrian Undercrossing?
    They keep pushing the completion date out (originally I believe it was scheduled to be completed in February, then March, then May, then June, and now the website is saying July).

    • Re: the undercrossing, while it does indeed continue to slip, schedule-wise, it is definitely continuing to move ahead. I’ll post a photo or two this week — the undercrossing project was one of the things I had planned to write about last week before Sequoia Station and the American Legion project arose, and took priority — but I was there last week and the crew was hard at work on the eastern side.

  5. Elevated tracks only divide or “wall off” if they are atop a solid concrete or soil berm. Modern viaducts allow for visual and physical continuous connectivity underneath elevated tracks where it was never there before. And by getting the tracks completely up and out of the way, the newly-created space underneath viaducts can be activated with all sorts of creative uses. Google or visit Berkeley’s Ohlone Greenway running under and alongside a BART viaduct … or check out the elevated Caltrain like grade separations (“level crossing removal”) being built in Melbourne, Australia:

  6. I’m curious if there is any resource that tracks the amount of current vacant office space in Redwood City along with the amount of proposed. There are spaces downtown that have n-e-v-e-r been occupied, yet developers are chomping at the bit to build more. I don’t get it.

    And IMHO, the proposals like Wells Fargo site that sacrifice our redwood trees (and gobble up public streets for their own glorification) should be ceremoniously burned in a bonfire at the town square.

  7. Looking forward to seeing some more developed images of the Sequoia Station proposal. I’m hoping they try to really create some more interesting architecture. The plans indicate they want to use the city’s history with Redwood Tree’s as inspiration. Maybe some interesting timber construction…by the time anything actually gets built I’m sure lumber prices will have stabilized. In general the concept is exciting. As you mentioned the final Caltrain station design will play a major role in how this development interacts with the rest of downtown (as well as a few of the adjacent projects). One interesting aspect I noticed in the plans – the Safeway appears to only have entrances (mostly) facing Jefferson…of course this is hardly set in stone. The additional office space isn’t my favorite but it’s literally next to the train station and the realty is this is the only way you’d get this amount of affordable housing in a location like this via a privately funded development.

    The American Legion proposal is aesthetically very unappealing.

  8. These two projects are some of the better ideas I’ve seen in awhile but looking for more details as they get more feedback and adjustments! Thanks for keeping us informed, I am always appreciative! 🙂

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