Downtown Redwood City plan tweaked in favor of office space

By Michelle Durand Daily Journal

Redwood City’s blueprint for downtown development is being tweaked to increase the allowable office space but overall density will remain the same by reducing housing and retail limitations.

The council, with Councilman Ian Bain voting no and Councilwoman Diane Howard abstaining, directed staff to move ahead with the proposed changes and required environmental review. Both plus a recommendation will be back to the Planning Commission and City Council in early 2015.

Amid the recession in 2010, the existing Downtown Precise Plan predicted 2,500 residential units, 500,000 square feet of office space, 100,000 square feet of retail space and 200 hotel units.

Four years later, amid an unprecedented downtown construction boom drawing new projects and tenants like Box, Inc. the projections for office space have just about reached the maximum allowed.

The proposed conversion adds an extra 168,930 square feet to the office space amount, maintains the hotel units, drops residential units by 740 and shaves 85,000 square feet from the retail space.

Councilman John Seybert said, while the numbers are different, the plan amendments still adhere to the original community intent and will contribute to the quality of life.

Despite numerous speakers who disagreed with the proposal or worried about housing reductions and traffic, the council majority emphasized that it does not change the plan’s overall density.

“We’re not talking about unlimited development,” Mayor Jeff Gee said.

The increased office space might actually lower traffic in the area because employees like those at Box are prone to using public traffic which is why developers pay high prices for the location, Community Development Director Aaron Aknin said.

Aknin said the office space itself doesn’t create new jobs but instead job growth drives the need for office space.

However, Diana Reddy of Peninsula Interfaith Action, said not all jobs at Box will be high-paid positions and those employees will be in their cars rather than transit because they can’t afford to live nearby.

Bain asked about the ongoing challenge of a jobs/housing imbalance and Aknin conceded the problem has not been resolved.

Once these amendments are in place, Councilwoman Barbara Pierce said she is interested in look at a retail attraction strategy and undertaking a Downtown Precise Plan Phase Two. Gee and Vice Mayor Rosanne Foust disagreed, with Gee saying the city needs to let the changes settle and learn from them first.

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