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Twelve-story office buildings and 675 homes above retail could replace the Sequoia Station shopping center in Redwood City with construction beginning in 2022.

That vision, being described as a downtown “sub-district,” was unveiled at a packed community meeting Wednesday. Some residents are thrilled about the prospect of much-needed housing adjacent to the Caltrain station while others are worried about the scale of the proposal and its potential to exacerbate traffic congestion. 

“We live in the neighborhood and we’re concerned about the large scale,” said resident Rob Saltzman. “They’re talking about 10- and 12-story buildings a couple of yards from our house. These buildings would dominate our view of looking east. … I’d like to see it scaled back a little. Four or five stories instead of 12 would be much more preferable.” 

Saltzman acknowledged the need for housing as well as worsening traffic congestion in the city. 

“It’s already pretty crowded,” he said. “I’m not anti-growth, but in Redwood City they’ve built quite a few large apartment complexes in the last five years so the traffic has definitely gotten worse. It’s definitely hard to travel on El Camino now.”

Resident Andrew Johnson said he’s sensitive to the sorts of concerns that Saltzman expressed, but felt the site is perfect for tall and high-density buildings. 

“High-rise, high-density, pedestrian-focused communities near Caltrain makes sense,” he said. “I’m a proponent of that for community reasons and environmental reasons.” 

A resident who preferred not to be named agreed and wants to see more proposals of this size in the city.   

“I like the idea of a mixed-use plan, the integration with transit is key and if Caltrain’s willing to cooperate, we can make this a pretty special spot,” he said. “My hope is eventually Redwood City can see itself as another major city on the Peninsula.”

Resident Jane Bohrer does not share that vision and is concerned that a concentration of tall buildings will be overwhelming and deprive the area of open space. 

“I’m a little worried about the impact of the really tall buildings and whether it’ll be too much for the space,” she said. “I think it’s really hard to maintain a nice open area when you have building after building of 10 stories tall. It’s a choice of whether it’s more like New York City or Redwood City.”  

The property is owned by Regency Centers and is currently home to 26 retailers. It has not been determined which retailers would remain, but the plan is to have as many on site, including an upgraded version of the Safeway and CVS/pharmacy. 

Resident Renee Paley said the shopping center is in dire need of an upgrade and celebrated the proposal for including housing and potentially amenities that do not currently exist in the city. 

“I think the proposal is a very good thing. The Sequoia Station has been falling apart for years and nobody from my age group goes down there. Everybody avoids it,” she said. “Having all the shops, they’re talking about an artists space, youth and family activities. I’m suggesting things like mini golf or midnight bowling, things that can be for families during the day and over-21-year-olds after 8 p.m. who want to come in for drinks. We have nothing for that out here. We need that.

“And we need more housing over here,” she continued. “You can’t find a place to live and if you do it’s $3,500 a month or something crazy like that.”

Redwood City housing developments of this size are required to include 20% affordable housing. A representative of the developer, Los Angeles-based Lowe, said the goal is to include more than the requirement. 

Lowe has not yet submitted plans to the city. A general plan amendment will be required to build homes and offices on the site, which falls under the Downtown Precise Plan. Lowe expects to formally request that amendment by the council in the fall, initiate the CEQA process by the winter and have an application considered by the Planning Commission and City Council in 2021.  

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