Plans to increase Redwood City’s housing stock could include taller buildings, greater building density and a renewed focus on encouraging duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes in most residential neighborhoods.

The city faces down a major housing goal — encouraging the development of nearly 6,900 new housing units by 2030. The number is about 50% greater than the Regional Housing Needs Allocation goal set by the state through its Housing Element process.

Some state legislation has been aimed at easing residential development, including Senate Bill 9, which permits a single lot to be split into two and at least two homes to be built on each lot. But additional local measures have also been deemed necessary in Redwood City.

“Between the changes that are being considered with SB 9 and these missing middle changes I’m talking about tonight, we’ll be covering a lot of the city’s existing residential neighborhoods and making changes that allow for this incremental development and new housing,” Principal Planner Diana O’Dell said during a Planning Commission meeting Tuesday.

Part of achieving that goal rests on efforts to increase the number of missing middle homes in the city, described as multiunit buildings that are the size of single-family homes placed in walkable neighborhoods, O’Dell said.

The city’s plan would encourage the development of duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes in areas already zoned for multifamily uses by allowing the structures to be built on the narrow and smaller lots where single-family homes can be built, nearly 77% of the city’s residential land.

Staff has also proposed streamlining the review process for 100% affordable housing projects and any residential project regardless of its height if it qualifies for a environmental review exemption and adheres to all other development regulations.

A third key measure would be to rezone some commercial office areas as mixed-use corridors and to increase permitted density in mixed-use areas including along parts of Veterans Boulevard and Woodside Road and along El Camino Real. Building heights would range from 40 feet to 85 feet depending on whether the area is labeled Mixed-Use Corridor, Mixed-Use Neighborhood or Mixed Use Transitional.

Commissioner Isabella Chu called the plan “fantastic” and praised efforts to increase the number of missing middle units in the city. But one major sticking point for Chu has long been her concerns for concentrating housing near highways.

Without a plan for reducing traffic on and near highways and to implement greater pedestrian and bike safety measures, Chu said she worries the city would be placing residents in danger of pollutants and vehicle deaths. She cited studies that have shown a 46% increase in pedestrian deaths in the past decade and about 130 pedestrian injuries for every death.

“That would be guaranteeing that those people will be exposed to pollution, noise and the risk of being hit and hurt by cars. And it is a statistical certainty that we’re going to lose lives there,” Chu said. “It’s the biggest hazard to safety and health within our city boundaries.”

The city has no say over state highways so Chu encouraged staff to use what sway city officials have to work with California Department of Transportation to implement traffic calming measures, suggesting if not, the new development could lead to environmental justice issues.

Commissioner Elmer Martinez Saballos was also in strong support of the proposed changes but questioned whether the city could incentivize more housing development by reducing its 100%-affordability benchmark for projects to be eligible for a streamlined review.

A handful of developers have proposed 100% affordable housing projects usually as a community benefit linked to larger commercial or office developments similar to those seen during the city’s Gatekeeper Process, O’Dell said, suggesting the trend indicates the city’s success in permitting fully affordable projects.

Still, Martinez Saballos noted financing fully affordable projects can be difficult and suggested a greater number of affordable units could hit the market if the staff considered an expedited review process for projects with a large number of affordable units, especially those with units listed at extremely low or very low affordability levels.

“I would be interested to see if maybe that’s one way we can incentivize developers and help push the needle of how many units at that level we’re building,” Martinez Saballos said.

Additional suggestions came from Chu who asked that staff consider waiving parking requirements for homes that would be inhabited by seniors and people with disabilities. And the commission also directed staff to consider whether rooftop gardens could qualify as open space. Staff has already proposed changing how open space is calculated to not be based on a number of bedrooms a home has.

O’Dell said staff has until January 2023 to finalize its plans which include the Housing Element and the Environmental Justice and Safety Element and will be returning to provide updates and to facilitate feedback from the commission and the City Council before that deadline.

“We still have quite a bit of work ahead of us,” O’Dell said.

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(650) 344-5200 ext. 106

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(4) comments

brewster1

can we take a vote on who thinks increasing population density is a good thing?

other than the developers and real estate agents and city council?

John Baker

Me. I vote in favor of higher density. Competition drives down prices, and even if the effect in price is only slight, there are tremendous environmental effects in the form of fewer vehicle miles traveled, less water use per capita, and avoiding turning greenspace into urban sprawl. Better here than covering farmlands. meadows, and hillsides.

brewster1

Let me clarify, I am not against high rises for the people who choose to live like ants or bees in a hive. That is there prerogative. What I question is the need to increase the population of RWC or MP with more people, more water use and yes, more cars. Everyone has a car or two.

mmautner

I'm a SFH owner, I support increased population density.

I also sold my household's 2nd car, & bought 2 ebikes. Life is good, we grocery shop at our local grocer by bicycle.

I expect residents of multi-story apartment/condo buildings will be incentivized to do the same, given exorbitant parking costs.

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