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Downtown boomtown: Some in Redwood City like the change, others don’t

El Camino Real between Veterans Boulevard and Whipple Avenue between Main Street is experiencing an unprecedented growth spurt that is literally transforming Redwood City’s skyline before its residents’ very eyes.

For some residents and city officials, the growth has come so quick it has been a little hard to take but for others it represents a vibrant economy and Redwood City’s move to become a regional destination.

Cranes dot the sky downtown as more office and apartment complexes are being built in the shadow of the city’s current tallest buildings — the county jail and new county courthouse.

But the new headquarters for Box Inc. at 900 Middlefield Road stands just as tall as those two buildings and will feature a 900-space parking garage that will be free to use nights and weekends when the project is completed later this year.

Increased traffic and lack of enough parking downtown have been residents’ two major complaints related to the building boom that has seen the construction of a new Kaiser Permanente Medical Center and 264 apartments on Veterans Boulevard; 132 apartments on Main Street; and 116 apartments on Marshall Street.

Those projects are already completed as nearby construction on six other will be completed later this year or early next year including the Box headquarters on Middlefield Road; 133 apartments on Fuller Street; 18 townhomes on Brewster Avenue; 471 apartments on Middlefield Road; 196 apartments on Main Street; and 305 apartments on Monroe Street.

The projects comprise 1,810 units of housing and 313,000 square feet of offices.

Redwood City has become desirable to build in as eight other development proposals have reached the desk of Community Development Director Aaron Aknin.

They include 229 units of housing in two projects and 540,000 square feet of offices in six projects.

The City Council adopted its Downtown Precise Plan in 2011 but a California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit filed against the city delayed the construction of many of the projects until recently, Aknin said.

“For a long time, there was not a lot built in downtown,” said Aknin, who previously worked for the cities of Palo Alto and San Bruno.

The two biggest complaints he hears from downtown business owners is the lack of parking not just for customers but for employees, as well, and, of course, the increased traffic in the area.

Mayor Jeff Gee said that 20 years ago Redwood City was not desirable to invest in.

Former councils mapped out a plan to attract the downtown cinema and to invest in Courthouse Square that have become the foundation for all the recent growth, Gee said.

The councils since have embraced the vision, he said.

Aknin meets at least twice a month with Redwood City San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce members to discuss all the changes and to hear their concerns.

One of the city’s main goals with all the new projects is to make sure the city puts an emphasis on not just attracting new retail to the area but retaining the shops and restaurants that already exist.

“Business retention is more important than business attraction,” Aknin said.

The city’s boom has proven companies want to locate downtown and the City Council is currently strategizing ways to get developers to fund affordable housing, arts and parks projects in exchange for building in the city.

Some residents, however, have taken to social media to express their disdain with all the growth.

The Facebook group Redwood City Residents Say: “What?” has become a sounding board for those who decry the city’s transformation.

“Well, I have to say that we are so disgusted, we are putting our house on the market on 4/1 and moving to Oregon ... If I wanted to live in Manhattan, I would have moved to NYC long ago...,” Roy Pugh wrote on the group’s page.

Daniel Curry wrote: “You know it’s beginning to feel like Bush and Sutter ... in San Francisco. No sunlight and traffic is bad. Let alone the lack of parking.”

Barbara Anne Kirkman wrote: “I think that I am going to write a book and entitle it ‘Seven Steps In How To Destroy A City.” First Chapter: City Council!”

But even some on the council are concerned with the speed at which the projects are being built.

When the council adopted the downtown precise plan in 2011, Councilman Ian Bain suspected it would take 10 to 15 years for a lot of the approved projects to be constructed.

“It’s played out a lot faster than I expected,” said Bain, who first joined the council in 1998.

The council has some difficult decisions to make when it comes to mitigating increased traffic created by new projects, he said.

Bain wants to make sure there is a balance between the amount of housing built in relation to offices.

“We’ve created policies to make it easier to build more housing in the city but office is the hot market right now and I’m very concerned of shifting the balance in the plan,” Bain said.

Bain thinks the pace of development needs to “slow down” and that new projects bring benefits to the community.

He wants to make sure downtown is a destination for city residents and not just out-of-town workers who will fill up the offices.

Downtown should be a place for families, he said.

“One of the things I’m concerned about is that I don’t want to lose the family fun and not just downtown,” he said.

With the loss of Mel’s Bowl and Malibu Grand Prix, there is a need to “insert some fun back into the city,” Bain said.

Gee’s vision for the city is for it to become an entertainment mecca for the people who live between San Jose and San Francisco.

He reminds people, too, that all the construction impacts, although substantial, are only temporary.

Bill Silverfarb/Daily Journal Box, Inc. will be headquartered in the office on the left later this year. The building will be one of the tallest in downtown along with the county jail and county courthouse.

(650) 344-5200 ext. 102

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