A Redwood City attorney who called a proposed trio of downtown condominium towers a “really pretty Soviet-style block of housing” is appealing the Planning Commission’s approval of the necessary permits.
Geoff Carr, on behalf of himself and two others who own the building at 605 Middlefield Road directly across from the project, argue the development violates the provisions of the city’s downtown precise plan. The appeal also calls for a new environmental impact report now that the consolidation of county courts into Redwood City has increased traffic and traffic pressure in the area.
Carr said he attended several workshops on creating the downtown precise plan which is why he’s amazed the Planning Commission approved a project he claims flies in the face of a city vision that considers the history, charm and size of existing architecture.
“I just never assumed they’d approve something so blightful at the maximum height on everything without any consideration of how it was going to dovetail into the buildings across the street,” Carr said. “Honestly, it looks more like the photos in the plan of what they were trying to avoid than trying to be what they wanted to sponsor.”
The 471-unit project at 525 Middlefield Road calls for approximately 10,500 square feet of commercial space for the San Mateo Credit Union and leasing office along with the housing in three 10-story towers and two- to three-story podium buildings. The condos can be leased out for 10 years as apartments.
The project also includes three levels of parking which tenants can rent if they choose on top of renting the units. The unbundled parking is new to the Peninsula but more common elsewhere, like Seattle, developer Paul Powers told the Planning Commission prior to its unanimous vote in September. Vice Chair Rachel Holt recused herself from the vote because her office is nearby.
Powers said leased parking is a way to spare tenants who opted for a car-free lifestyle from subsidizing others. Most commissioners liked the concept but at least one raised concern about spillover parking congestion into an already crowded downtown.
Carr’s appeal states the concept is the subject of litigation elsewhere, like San Francisco, and that tight parking downtown will not dissuade tenants from seeking on-street options.
“Never underestimate how cheap people can be,” Carr said.
Blake Lyon, Redwood City planning manager with the community development department, said the city is currently reviewing the appeal so had no further comment.
The City Council must schedule the appeal hearing within 90 days of the Sept. 19 filing, Lyon said.
Carr said he and his associates in 606 Middlefield LLC are not anti-construction but that the city and developer should have contacted neighboring businesses to gauge the impact and deliver a plan with three- to four-story fronts ramping up to taller buildings in the back.
He also questioned the modern glass design accented with blue in the middle, saying that aesthetics must be a concern particularly near historic structures because the downtown precise plan’s characterization of “contemporary” does not mean “anything goes.”
“Everything in drawings looks pretty but they’re going to be friggin’ ugly,” Carr said.
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