A multi-step process to allow housing in one of Redwood City’s light industrial zones to make way for up to 120 affordable housing units got the green light at Monday’s City Council meeting.
By a 6-1 vote, councilmembers approved a study of how amending the city’s general plan to allow residential projects on two parcels in the southeast corner of Woodside and Bay roads will affect nearby businesses and traffic in the area.
The Sobrato Organization, owner and developer of the two parcels as well as the updates planned for Redwood City’s Broadway Plaza across the street, presented a partnership formed with Foster City-based MidPen Housing to build the affordable units.
Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre praised the partnership, which she said brought two organizations with a proven track record for high quality work benefiting the city and county together in the same project.
“Over and over in this room for the last two or three years we have heard about the need for affordable housing,” she said, according to a video of the meeting. “I can’t thank folks enough for really listening, especially developers, to say we really want to make a dent in that area.”
In February, the developer amended its project application for the shopping center bordered by Broadway, Bay Road and Woodside Road to include an option to build off-site affordable units on one of the two 2-acre parcels bordered on the east by Bay Road. The option would help the developer fulfill the city’s requirement that new residential projects contribute to the city’s affordable housing stock by building below-market-rate units instead of paying approximately $15 million in fees, according to a staff report.
MidPen Housing President Matt Franklin emphasized his enthusiasm for the partnership between the developer and his nonprofit, whose $17.1 million purchase of a Redwood City apartment complex in February preserved 55 affordable units. He said because The Sobrato Organization owns the vacant parcels, the project presents a tangible opportunity to build much-needed affordable housing in the area.
“For us, as a developer of affordable housing, the ability to identify and secure good sites for affordable housing developments in 2017 here in Redwood City is probably one of the biggest challenges that we face,” he said.
Between the mix of 400 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units, all of which would be market rate, planned for the Broadway Plaza project, and the 120 affordable units planned for the Bay Road parcels, the two projects combined would bring over 500 new housing units and accompanying parking to the area, where a variety of industrial, chain and small businesses are currently clustered around the congested Woodside Road and Highway 101 interchange. The Broadway Plaza project is also expected to bring 420,000 square feet of office space and close to 4,000 square feet of retail space to the aging shopping center where Foods Co, Office Max and Big Lots stores previously operated.
Several business owners operating in buildings close to the Bay Road parcels expressed concerns about the loss of space in the city to perform equipment-intensive, industrial operations and the impact of increased traffic and congestion on their businesses.
Robert Lasher owns a building at 909 Broadway, where a hot water and steam boiler equipment company operates. His building shares a block with the Bay Road parcels, and he stressed the importance of keeping incubator and industrial facilities in the area.
“If we lose our incubator area there, I don’t think it’s ever coming back,” he said.
Stephanie Black, who works for Stewart Painting at 830 Charter St., reminded the council of the nearby schools, including Hoover Elementary School and Summit Preparatory Charter High School less than half a mile away from the Bay Road parcels, contributing to traffic congestion. Black also mentioned that new projects, such as the one discussed at Monday’s meeting, and the new 24 Hour Fitness gym on Broadway would only increase traffic and limit parking in the area.
“There’s a lot happening and not a whole lot of solutions to parking and traffic,” she said.
Councilwoman Janet Borgens opposed the study, saying she didn’t want to start a conversation that might send the wrong message to developers about how the council will review these types of requests in the future. Borgens, who had previously served on the Planning Commission, said she remembered when the commission and council made a conscientious effort to designate the area for light industrial uses, and felt amending the general plan was an example of spot zoning, where one-time exceptions would be allowed.
“I truly believe that we need to have light industrial and incubator startups,” she said. “I do not feel this is the area to have housing.”
Councilman Jeff Gee acknowledged the pressures the development could put on nearby businesses, and said he hoped that the public hearings and opportunities to engage the community that lay ahead for the development’s partners would address concerns from a variety of stakeholders affected by the new development. City staff confirmed that between the citizen committee, Planning Commission and City Council meetings required for a general plan amendment, there would be seven to eight more public hearings where community feedback could be considered.
“Without looking at it and studying it, we won’t know the pros and cons,” Gee said. “There’s a lot of community engagement in front of us and this will come back to a number of city organizations … for approval some time in the future.”
Mayor John Seybert voiced his support for the study, which he said would offer a much-needed opportunity for the city to think differently about how to create affordable opportunities for residents to live and work in Redwood City.
“We owe it to our community right now to look at every opportunity,” he said. “There are no crazy ideas left if we’re really going to solve this problem.”
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102