We May Have a Winner…

…for the longest title for an item on a City Council meeting agenda. I attended Monday’s meeting specifically to watch this item, which was titled Direct staff to develop a resource plan to support a community visioning process to shape future development downtown and in central Redwood City, to schedule future City Council consideration of a Transit Sub-District and to develop criteria for future City Council consideration of pending development proposals requiring General Plan amendments. I try hard to come up with fun and catchy titles for my blog posts but never could I imagine coming up with something like that…

I’ve been talking about Redwood City’s Downtown Precise Plan (DTPP) for years now, primarily because it has been the catalyst for much of the downtown development that’s gone on over the last several years. But the DTPP has some built-in limits that have largely been reached, meaning that although the DTPP still has a lot to say about how development is to be done in downtown Redwood City, the expedited development process that was enabled through the use of an area-wide Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is no more. Developers once again have to have a study done showing how their proposed project would affect the city’s environment (traffic, air quality, noise, and the like) before a project will even be considered for approval.

Partly because of this, but really because the vision that the DTPP laid out for downtown Redwood City has pretty much been realized, the City Council has recognized that it is time to create a new vision for Redwood City. Thus, the first part of that incredibly long title: “…develop a resource plan to support a community visioning process to shape future development downtown and in central Redwood City”. The key points here are 1) we are at the very beginning of the process to develop this new vision (which will be realized as a land-use plan), a process that will take months or even years; 2) the process will be community-based, meaning that we all shall have a lot of chances to give input; and 3) this plan will cover a somewhat larger area than the DTPP did. Rather than just being limited to Redwood City’s downtown, the plan area will cover what is being referred to as “central Redwood City” (which is not to be confused with the Central neighborhood). Although the specific boundaries of central Redwood City have yet to be decided upon, city staff are tentatively thinking that it’ll be the area bounded by Whipple Avenue, El Camino Real, Woodside Road, and Veterans Boulevard.

Although there is no technical reason why it has to, this new plan will likely replace the DTPP, given that having both in effect would be confusing not only for developers but for city staff who are charged with deciding whether a given project proposal adheres to the plans that govern the relevant portion of the city. Portions of the DTPP that the city decides are still useful will likely be subsumed within the city’s new vision.

Somewhat parallel to this visioning process will be a separate — but related, given that their areas overlap — effort to develop a “Transit Sub-District.” This new district would be focused on transit, obviously, and would provide a vision for a future transit center along with guidance for how development within the new sub-district should be done. Creating this sub-district will involve the city figuring out just what transit the city would like to see within the district, including of course Caltrain and SamTrans (buses), but possibly also High-Speed Rail, trains along the Dumbarton rail corridor, and a light-rail or trolley line. Among other things this plan will aim to address the handful of grade-level crossings we have in Redwood City today, crossings that will become increasingly difficult to navigate if Caltrain ramps up their service as anticipated, if High-Speed Rail trains are added to the mix, and if trains along the Dumbarton rail corridor start operating all the way to downtown Redwood City. The plan would present a vision for a new station, presumably, and also would address the fact that Redwood City’s downtown isn’t currently designed to welcome people arriving at our current Transit Center.

Finally, there is the third part of the title: “…develop criteria for future City Council consideration of pending development proposals requiring General Plan amendments.” As it turns out, there are some 14 projects that the city is aware of that developers would love to construct but that go against the city’s General Plan. Of the 14 projects, only two are actually listed on the city’s Development Projects page. The remaining 12 are still largely in the minds of the developers, although those developers have had preliminary discussions with city staff regarding their projects. Such a large number of projects needing General Plan amendments in order to proceed is putting pressure on the city to put together a cohesive vision that can guide which projects should be approved, rather than simply looking at each project proposal individually and ending up with a hodgepodge of development with no unifying theme. As one City Council member put it at the meeting, “we want a city-led process, rather than a developer-led one.”

Although we have very little information as to what each developer wants to build, city staff did identify the 14 project sites along with a very general idea of what the developer is thinking. If you’ve been following my posts for any length of time, you know that when I come across a list, I almost always turn it into a blog post. Thus, this week I took a walk (and, admittedly, a bit of a drive; some of the sites are far, and I had limited time) to photograph those 14 sites. In the future I’ll have a great deal to say about the city’s visioning process, but for now allow me to present to you the collective vision of Redwood City as it springs from the mind of a dozen or so developers.

First off, let me dispense with three proposals that I’ve already written something about: the Sequoia Station project redesign (which will be subject to future Transit Sub-District guidelines), the office/residential/retail project that developers hope will replace our downtown Wells Fargo Bank building, and the 60-unit townhouse project proposed for 505 E. Bayshore Road (currently home to Alan Steel and Supply Company). New is a proposal for the downtown Chase Bank property next door to Courthouse Square, a property that I noted only last week shows no external evidence of being anything other than a bank. According to reader Kris, who met with the developer, the hope is to replace the building with a 100-foot-tall office building with ground-floor retail.

In what is likely the largest proposal, at least in terms of land area, a developer would like to tear down Veterans Square and the multi-retailer building that sits behind it on Oddstad Drive (where The Jewelry Exchange, among others, is located) to construct a mixed-use (including residential) development on the ten-acre parcel.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, size-wise, a developer is hoping to tear down the little three-story office building at the corner of Warren and Marshall streets and build a new, presumably larger, office building in its place:

And then there is the desire on the part of a developer to construct a new office building in place of the two-story one at 601 Allerton Street that currently houses the local office of the Social Security Administration:

Next is a possible housing project slated for 797 Arguello Street. Currently this address is home to Redwood Massage & Sauna. Whether or not this project would also consume the next-door Chavez Market, we’ll have to wait for a more concrete proposal.

Still within what most people consider to be Redwood City’s downtown, there is a new proposal for the parcel at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Bradford Street. Just a few years ago a developer had hoped to build a high-rise condominium building on the property, but couldn’t make the project pencil out after having to change the design in response to a threatened lawsuit. So I’m interested to see if a concrete proposal really does surface for this parcel, which today sports a small single-story building housing tech company UnifyID:

So far the proposal for the above property is somewhat vague: simply “mixed-use, ground floor entertainment with office or residential.”

Moving out to El Camino Real, there are two properties that developers have their eyes on. First is the American Legion property, at 651 El Camino Real. Here a developer would like to build a mixed-use project that includes a residential component.

The other El Camino Real parcel is located farther down the street, beyond Broadway:

With only the AutoZone building and a bunch of surface parking on it, this parcel does seem like one that developers would be interested in. The thought is to put a mixed-use building on the site, that would combine offices with a community center of some sort.

We’re in the final stretch now. The remaining three properties are all lie outside of Redwood City’s downtown. First up is the essentially empty lot at the corner of Middlefield Road and Cassia Street, which possibly all Redwood City residents know as the home, during the holidays, of Bethlehem A.D.:

I’m delighted to report that the hope is to put affordable housing on this parcel.

Next is another property that area residents are certainly aware of, even if they’ve never been there: it is the old AT&T building with the tall tower visible from most of the city, located at 3175 Spring Street.

These days the building houses Evoque Data Center Solutions, a company that spun out from AT&T. The existing building is quite large, and sits on a parcel that is just shy of 6.5 acres in size. As for what the developer wants to do with the land, well, they’d like to put housing there.

The final parcel is also one where the developer hopes to put housing. This one is a bit tricky, given that it is located on land off Seaport Boulevard, land that is immediately adjacent to Redwood Creek. In fact, this 21-acre parcel is sometimes referred to as “Ferrari Pond” since a large part of it is often underwater. To develop it with conventional housing would mean raising some or all of the parcel up by a few feet in order to make it buildable and to protect it from sea level rise. However, there has been talk in the past of turning this into a marina for live-aboards: boats and floating homes on which people could live. Since this particular project is just slated for “housing,” without specifying the type of housing that would be constructed, perhaps that is the intent here.

At this point we know close to nothing about any of these potential projects, given that at this point they are just that: potential. If and when they turn into concrete proposals we’ll be able to better judge these projects on their merits. But remember that all of these are projects would require an amended General Plan in order to receive serious consideration. And since the city hopes to come up with a set of criteria by which projects like these can be evaluated before considering them, don’t expect to see any of these projects built any time soon. And of course some or all of these may not ever be developed; so far these are just dreams on the part of the developers. But if they all were, hopefully you can now picture what Redwood City might look like.

Given the length of the title for the item on the City Council meeting, you would expect the item to be complicated, and indeed it is. It is triggering three separate efforts on the part of city staff that will together help shape the future of “central” Redwood City. Fortunately these three efforts won’t begin until next year, and will likely take quite a bit of time to complete. And fortunately there should be ample opportunities for Redwood City residents to give feedback and help shape the ultimate outcomes. For those who either weren’t here or weren’t aware of what was going on when the DTPP was originally created, this will be our chance to help guide the visioning process and shape the future of Redwood City’s downtown. Keep an eye out! And know that I’ll be watching for, and reporting on, any progress made on these new visions for Redwood City.