City kicks around housing ideas

Officials may have discovered a way to bring housing to the city’s downtown without requiring developers to create any units for low-income tenants.

The Redwood City Council is eager to entice developers to build housing in the city’s core, but fears that saddling them with affordable-housing requirements will scare them off. Meanwhile, they hope to build market-rate units — condominiums, particularly — downtown and entice young urban professionals to move in.

“We need people living downtown who have disposable incomes,” City Council member Jim Hartnett said during a housing-policy workshop Monday night. “We’re building that senior-housing site on Bradford Street, which is a good site, but those residents won’t support downtown.”

Redwood City has sunk $50 million into revitalizing its downtown with a new 20-screen movie theater and shopping center and a new public plaza. Now officials are looking for ways to put residents in the core, which is one of the aims of its downtown precise plan, which heads to the Planning Commission tonight.

California law requires that 15 percent of new housing built within a redevelopment area be made available to low-income residents. Redwood City has already built 149 below-market-rate units in its redevelopment area and has another 58 on the way, according to Redevelopment Manager Susan Moeller.

Meanwhile, “We have no market-rate housing downtown. None,” Vice Mayor Rosanne Foust said. That means the city can build up to 1,250 new market-rate units, which makes developers happy because they don’t have to do paperwork for BMR units.

“Most developers would rather pay in-lieu fees than do the paperwork for affordable housing,” City Manager Ed Everett said.

Other challenges plague development as well. Downtown’s parcels are small and will need to be combined to create footprints big enough to build on — which means cutting deals with multiple property owners. Meanwhile, land costs continue to rise, making development a pricy proposition.

Because of that, developers may want to build taller projects — up to eight stories or more — but are finding it difficult to plan for that much parking, according to city planner Jill Ekas. Meanwhile, residents are resistant to buildings that tall.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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