In Partnership

A little over five years ago the Redwood City Planning Commission approved a proposal from The Pauls Corporation for an eight-story, 92-unit condominium building to be built on the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Bradford Street. Two separate appeals were filed against the project, both of which were denied by the City Council: the Planning Commission’s decision was upheld. A local attorney then sued the developer in an effort to get the building’s height reduced. At first, the developer agreed to lop two stories — and 23 condominiums — off the project. Later, though, they decided that the altered project was no longer economically feasible, and withdrew the project before any actual site work could take place. The aging one-story building that had been standing on that corner was subsequently remodeled, and UnifyID, a company that aims to “strengthen user security while elevating the consumer experience,” moved in. They’ve been there ever since:

I saw nothing new proposed for the site until the city announced its Gatekeeper Process, at which time The Sobrato Organization — the well-respected folks behind the massive Broadway Plaza project — stepped forward with an interesting proposal for the site. Although their proposal includes multifamily housing, it is a much more complex project, and is being done in partnership with the Redwood City School District.

Why the partnership? The new proposal, which was officially submitted to the city a week or two ago, occupies two parcels, one of which is currently home to the Redwood City School District offices. And the proposal would span both the corner site which UnifyID currently calls home and the adjacent site which today contains the district’s small two-story office building:

Sobrato’s proposed project would replace these two buildings. It would consist of two side-by-side buildings atop a one-story, site-wide “podium.” That podium would contain not only the lobbies for the two buildings, but also a portion of the project’s parking garage.

The two buildings would abut one another, but it doesn’t appear that they would actually touch. Above the podium there would be no connection between them: a person in the office portion could not enter the residential portion except by exiting the building and re-entering through the residential entrance (technically, one could go from one to another through the garage, I suppose). 

This rendering, included as part of Sobrato’s project submission to the city, shows what the proposed building might look like as viewed from above the intersection of Jefferson Avenue (on the right) and Bradford Street (angling up to the left):

The portion in brown is the residential building. The white-and gray portion to the left, plus the bit in the middle that looks a bit like steps, makes up the office building. Note the podium level, which is the white ground-level floor; it would extend the entire width and depth of the project.

Both buildings are seven stories tall, but as you can see from the rendering each of the residential stories would not be as tall as those in the office building. Thus, the residential building would be somewhat shorter, at 82 feet (not counting the parapet which hides the rooftop mechanical equipment). The office building, on the other hand, would be 101 feet tall, plus its parapet. As for the stepped portion in the middle, because it is part of the office building it would extend to the building’s full height towards the back. However, its “steps,” which would be on the third and fifth floors, would be outdoor terraces for those in the offices.

One of the things that excited me about the earlier proposal for this corner was the fact that the building’s condominiums, which would have been for sale to the public, were designed such that each condominium was located entirely on one level. That is, within each condo there would have been no stairs, unlike with all of the townhouse-style condominiums being built around the city today. Plus, there would have been a couple of three-bedroom units. Given the project’s excellent location, a three bedroom condo with no stairs was something I can actually envision buying, and so I was understandably disappointed when the project was withdrawn.

Although this new project would include six three-bedroom units among the 87 that would comprise the residential building, I can entertain no such fantasies about occupying one, for the simple fact that the partnership between Sobrato and the school district isn’t just about taking over the parcel upon which the district offices stand today. If this project is built, all of the housing units are to be so-called “workforce housing.” That is, they are intended to be leased (I presume, although it isn’t entirely clear whether they would be for-rent or for-sale) to teachers, staff, and other school employees at a rate which hopefully would allow those residents to live within the community in which they work. I do note that each unit would be all on one level; the current plans show no stairs within any of the 87 residential units.

The housing units would range in size from studios to three-bedroom units, with the vast majority — 62 — having either one or two bedrooms. Residents would enter and exit through the residential building’s lobby, which would face Jefferson Avenue. Adjacent to that lobby, the podium would also be home to a large “flex space” that would have windows looking out onto Bradford Street; it would occupy the full width of the residential building. Another flex space, this one much smaller, would be located on the second floor, where there would also be a community room.

Not visible in the rendering is the fact that the residential building, on top of the podium, is actually L-shaped: within the ‘L’, on the second floor, would be an open terrace for use by the building’s residents. From the rough plans that were submitted to the city, that terrace appears to be about 5,500 square feet in size. Both the community room and the outdoor flex space appear to open out onto this terrace.

The stepped-back portion of the project would be, as I mentioned, part of the office building. In fact, on the ground floor that is where the office building’s lobby would be located. To the left, further along Bradford Street, would be one of the entrances to the building’s parking garage (the other would be located to the right of the residential building’s lobby, along Jefferson Avenue). From the office lobby, one would take an elevator to the floors above, which on the plans are shown as completely open (except for the elevator shafts, stairwells, restrooms, and a utility closet); these would of course be built out for the building’s tenants to suit their needs. In total, the building would contain some 166,000 square feet of office space.

Just where would all of those office workers and residents park? The building would contain three levels of parking, two below-ground. The clear majority of the parking spaces would be on the two subterranean levels, although there would be around 60 spaces at the podium level behind the building’s lobbies and flex space. Those parking spaces are designated on the preliminary plans as “residential/shared parking,” implying that perhaps during the day, when some of the residents are not in, er, residence, their parking spaces might be usable by those working in, or having business with, the next-door offices. On all three levels a good deal of the parking is in tandem (meaning that cars are parked nose-to-tail, with some cars blocking access to others); this indicates that a valet service may be employed to keep all cars accessible.

Tandem spaces and valet service are frequently appearing in projects throughout the city (as are mechanical parking stackers, which do not appear to be in the cards for this project), so they should not be any cause for concern. What might be, perhaps, is the total number of parking spaces provided. According to Redwood City standards, this project should provide 498 parking spaces for the office portion, and an additional 76 spaces for the residences, for a total of 574 parking spaces. What the plans show, however, is a garage with 263 vehicular parking spaces (and room for 60 bicycles): the developer intends to pay an in-lieu fee for a whopping 311 parking spaces. This means that the developer would pay the city a fee for each missing parking space, monies that the city would theoretically use to build an equivalent amount of parking elsewhere in the city.

Other projects have paid in-lieu fees to make up for insufficient parking within them, but I cannot recall a serious project proposal in which the developer is proposing to supply less than half the required amount of parking (they propose providing about 46% of what the city deems necessary). How much parking the building will need in reality is difficult to say: some of Redwood City’s newer buildings appear not to be using all of the parking they were required to provide. Thanks to recent changes in where and how people work — and thanks to the fact that this building would not be that far from Redwood City’s Transit Center — one could make a case for 574 parking spaces being too high a figure. But until Redwood City decides that the world has changed and thus the current standards for parking in office and residential buildings are too high, this is the situation that the developer is facing. Undoubtedly, when this project comes before the appropriate bodies for approval, parking will be a key part of the discussion (assuming that the plans don’t change significantly between now and then, reducing the parking imbalance). I for one will be interested in watching that conversation take place, which should occur sometime in the indefinite future: no date has yet been set for public review of this project.

Parking aside, this project has a lot to recommend it. Those 87 units of workforce housing, in particular, could be just what the Redwood City School District needs in order to entice teachers to come to the area (and stay). Community acceptance of the office building next door, I gather, is simply the price we must pay to have subsidized housing of this type built. Regardless, this project shows the value of having a developer such as Sobrato work in partnership with an organization such as the Redwood City School District: we end up with an attractive hybrid that serves multiple needs, located in an area that is clearly underutilized.

Redwood City seems to have gotten through the Fourth of July holiday relatively unscathed, although my wife and I certainly heard a lot of fireworks being shot off that night — plus many nights before it, and a few after. Over the weekend I did go down and check out the Chalk Art Walk as planned. There were some terrific works of art to look at, some that I found hard to believe were done entirely in chalk. For instance, this one, which was in Courthouse Square, was incredibly realistic:

The walk extended along a path that led from Courthouse Square to the main branch of the Public Library, and all along the way there were some terrific pieces. There were too many good ones to show here, but I’ll include just one other, to show some of the diversity in the artworks:

While I do hope that next year we can have a full lineup of Fourth of July activities — parade, public fireworks show, the fair, etc. — I sincerely hope (and presume) that the chalk art will continue. Thanks to the Redwood City Parks and Arts Foundation (who will be announcing the results of the Chalk Art Contest on Sunday, July 11, incidentally) for helping to make my own Fourth of July feel a bit more normal…

Before I leave the Fourth, as I walked around the city this week gathering information and photographs for some upcoming blog posts, I stumbled across this in the back parking lot of an office building next to In ’N Out Burger:

Seriously? That could have been a $1,000 fine, folks. (I presume that whoever lit this good-sized firework wasn’t caught.)

In case you haven’t heard, at the last City Council meeting the Redwood City Council unanimously gave the “thumbs-up” to making the Hopkins Avenue Traffic Safety project permanent. It’s still going to take some time to actually implement, however: city staff plans to put the project out to bid later this month, and hopes to award the contract later this summer. Construction would begin 1-2 months after that, and would last for between 6-8 months. So we’re looking at close to a year before this thing is completely wrapped up.

Roadway repairs and repaving would come at the end of the process, so if you regularly use Hopkins Avenue (or its many cross streets), there is a good chance that the going will be a lot smoother (literally!) by this time next year.

Redwood City is holding its official ground-breaking ceremony for the Veterans Memorial Building/Senior Center project next Friday, July 16, at 9 a.m. If you care to join in, it will be taking place at (in front of, I’m guessing) the existing Veterans Memorial/Senior Center building at Red Morton Park; between 1455 Madison Ave. and 711 Nevada Street. Light refreshments will be provided.

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