The Redwood City Planning Commission unanimously approved seven townhomes in the Redwood Oaks neighborhood Tuesday, applauding the developer for adding “much-needed” starter homes to the city’s housing stock and for compromising with concerned neighbors.

The townhomes, which range from 1,300 square feet to 1,500 square feet, are for sale and spread throughout two buildings located at 31 Center St., just steps from El Camino Real. 

“We need smaller, starter homes for people to start out in and raise their families,” said Commissioner Rick Hunter, who also celebrated the project for including three-bedroom units. “[Three-bedroom units] is something we find lacking and it’s easier to raise families in.” 

Some neighbors felt the three-story townhomes, reaching 37 feet at the highest point, are not fit for a neighborhood dominated by one-story single-family homes. 

“It’s way too big for that corner,” said resident Rudy Escobedo. 

Commissioners did not share that concern and noted the developer could have submitted a project as tall as four stories and as dense as 15 units based on current zoning. The site is zoned mixed-use corridor.

“There were compromises made on behalf of the applicant that I find admirable,” said Commissioner Michael Smith. “We see a lot of projects where they’re trying to go to the maximum, they’re going for it and in this situation that did not happen.”

Commissioners did sympathize with some of the neighbors’ concerns, namely that the project will necessitate the removal of multiple mature redwood trees — the city’s arborist previously said the redwoods wouldn’t survive construction and associated underground work — and a few parking spaces. 

The parking spaces are being eliminated so Recology can access the future tenants’ trash bins without entering private property. Commissioners directed staff to find a way, if possible, to preserve the parking and redwood trees but did not make either a condition of approval.

“There’s an incredible majestic redwood tree right on the corner. … We’re Redwood City and trees are an important part of our community and losing a 45-inch-in-diameter redwood tree should not be taken lightly,” said resident Kris Johnson. 

Any trees that are removed will be replaced by the applicant but, if the mature redwoods have to go, they will likely be replaced by a different type of tree.

There was also some concern about air quality because of potentially toxic fumes emanating from an auto body shop next door. Commissioners suggested making the windows closest to the auto body shop inoperable and directed the applicant to ensure indoor air quality standards are met. 

Commissioner Ernie Schmidt said he likes the project for the most part, but criticized the proposed buildings for being shaped like boxes.

“We’re starting to see a lot of boxier types of developments and I really wish we’d focus more on developments that look more like houses,” he said, adding that developers have told him in the past that box-shaped buildings are cheaper to build. 

As part of the project, the applicant will widen Center Street along the property line, add a crosswalk, plant additional street trees and install two monuments on Center Street announcing the transition from El Camino Real to a residential neighborhood, in part for traffic calming purposes. 

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

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