Photo courtesy of Redwood City
An artist’s rendering of the condo development at 603 Jefferson Ave. in Redwood City.
A six-story, 68-condominium downtown development scaled back by litigation was approved Monday by the Redwood City Council, whose members took the opportunity to explore how the city can meet rising housing demand while balancing community needs.
The council voted 5-1 to approve a scaled-back development at 603 Jefferson Ave. on the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Bradford Street. Councilwoman Janet Borgens voted against it and Councilwoman Diane Howard recused herself due to potential conflict of interest.
The original plan for an eight-story building with 91 condominiums and 4,500 square feet of ground-floor retail space was approved by the Planning Commission in May but appealed by citizens group Redwood City Residents for Responsible Development to the council, which denied the appeal and approved the project in July.
That sparked a citizens group lawsuit, settled in November with the agreement the project applicant, The Pauls Corporation, would submit a scaled-back plan for review.
Geoff Carr, a longtime downtown resident and attorney representing Redwood City Residents for Responsible Development, expressed frustration it took a lawsuit to achieve the settlement compromise at Monday’s meeting.
“This kind of compromise should have been hammered out without a lawsuit,” he said. “If anyone in the city had come to us and said, ‘What do you think about this one?’ We could have ended up with this without all of this difficulty, expense and unnecessary controversy.”
Paul Powers, president of The Pauls Corporation, agreed that the compromise was not ideal, but represented a sustainable path forward in increasing Redwood City’s housing stock.
“We support the settlement. It wasn’t our first choice,” he said. “We believe strongly that the previous project and this project represents smart growth.”
Several residents lent their support for the project’s approval. Peter Frank, a 20-year resident, said he and his wife are looking for ways to downsize from their four-bedroom home in Redwood City, which is central to where their children live on the Peninsula.
“We want to stay here. I want a place I can move to, where I can own it,” he said. “It’s the perfect answer for us, It [would be] the last move we’re going to make.”
Councilmembers leveraged extended discussion on this development to bring attention to focus areas for future discussions.
Borgens acknowledged the complexity in balancing the housing needs of Redwood City’s diverse population.
“I love hearing that our seniors want to downsize and move to Redwood City and I want to make that possible,” she said.
Borgens said that while growth in Redwood City’s downtown has been exciting for some, it has caused angst for others wishing to preserve downtown’s historical feel.
“I would like for us to make sure that those developments that we are approving are complementary to our history,” she said, referring to the project’s size and design. “I don’t think this is that.”
Housing impact fee
Other councilmembers noted the impact on the number of units, especially affordable housing units, as a result of the changes made to the original plan.
The new plan generates almost $500,000 less in the affordable housing impact fee, which allows the city to charge project applicants for new residential and commercial developments to help fund the provision of affordable housing units in the city. The project at 603 Jefferson Ave. marks the first time since the city adopted the fee in December of 2015 that is subject to it, said Assistant City Manager Aaron Aknin.
Councilman Jeff Gee drew attention to the magnitude of the affordable housing impact fee reduction, which he said is a multiple of the face value.
“Perhaps one of the unintended consequences is the financial impact of contributing $500,000 less toward affordable housing,” he said. “We have learned that whatever monies we can offer as a city are leveraged five to 10 times over.”
Councilwoman Shelly Masur was similarly affected by the loss in funds accompanying the reduced project, reminding the group of the urgency of the area’s housing shortage.
“At almost every single meeting that we have, someone comes before us to talk about the dire straits that members of our community are in with regard to housing,” she said. “It takes money to bring in affordable housing. It can’t be done without leveraging other monies.”
For Vice Mayor Ian Bain, the obstacles encountered with the 603 Jefferson project plan offered an opportunity for improved communication between developers, city councilmembers and members of the community so that proposed projects reflect a wide array of community needs. He also implored future developers to consider including below-market units in new residential projects as an alternative to contributing to the affordable housing impact fee.
“We need your help,” he said. “It’s not enough to pay in-lieu fees.”
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