Redwood City downtown plan poised to advance after long delays 

The plan to dramatically transform downtown Redwood City with new shops and high-rise housing is on the verge of being re-approved, though the legal wrangling that has stalled the effort for years may not be over yet.

On Monday, City Council members will consider approving the long-awaited Downtown Precise Plan, which lays out a block-by-block vision for the city’s revitalized shopping district in the coming decades.

The plans allows for up to 2,500 new high-density housing units in buildings up to 12 stories tall, plus with 500,000 square feet of offices and 100,000 square feet of retail space.

Proponents hope the idea of a pedestrian-friendly community and incentives such as a fast-tracked permitting process will attract housing developers.

“We’re serious about creating a very thriving, 24/7 living environment downtown, and I think adopting a plan and getting moving on it clearly sends that message,” said Councilman John Seybert.

But the attorney for downtown property owner Joe Carcione, who successfully blocked the council’s 2007 approval of the original plan, said there are still concerns the city has not yet addressed.

“Right now, we’re up in the air,” said Greg Ryken. “I’m not entirely sure what’s going to happen. I hope it works out, but I don’t know.”

Carcione filed a lawsuit in 2007 claiming the city failed to adequately study the plan’s potential to cause shadowing on his law offices at 601 Brewster Ave. or impact the downtown’s historic buildings. A San Mateo County judge ruled in Carcione’s favor in 2008, ordering the city in 2009 to set aside the original plan.

Since then, the city has done a thorough shadow study, lowered maximum building heights around the area’s oldest buildings and built in other protections for historic landmarks, among other changes, said Downtown Development Coordinator Dan Zack.

“We’ve worked really hard to be very thoughtful in how we respond to the ruling,” Zack said.

But Ryken said ongoing concerns include a lack of parkland to support 5,500 new residents and a potentially dangerous new intersection. He said Thursday that negotiations with the city were ongoing, though he didn’t rule out further legal challenges.

Seybert said he hopes to get the plan into place to begin attracting developers.

“I think this is a great opportunity to set the table for the kind of housing development we really need to see happen.”

The long road home

Redwood City has been working since 2005 to revamp its downtown.

June 2005: City Council holds first meeting to discuss community’s desires for Downtown Precise Plan
April 2007: Council gives final approval to plan and environmental document
May 2007: Downtown property owner Joe Carcione sues, claiming the city didn’t conduct a proper environmental review
April 2008: Judge Marie Weiner tentatively rules in Carcione’s favor
February 2009: Weiner enforces ruling, ordering Redwood City to rescind approval of the plan within 60 days
March 2009: City Council rescinds the original downtown plan and environmental impact report rather than appealing Weiner’s ruling
March 2010: Planners release a revised version of the plan
September 2010: Environmental impact report for revised plan is released.
December 2010: Planning Commission recommends City Council sign off on new plan

Source: City of Redwood City

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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