City must pare down housing plans

REDWOOD CITY — The city must build fewer than the 3,700 new downtown residential units recommended by a consultant or risk severely snarling city traffic, according to an environmental study being released today.

Consultants working with Redwood City to draft its downtown precise plan, a document that will guide the city’s push toward urbanization of its retail core, recommended the city build between 1,200 and 3,700 new units downtown to ensure round-the-clock activity in the district. City planners, however, found that building more than 3,000 units could bring serious gridlock to streets downtown — and as far away as the intersection of Middlefield and Woodside roads, according to the report.

Instead, a “moderate intensity” alternative, with 2,500 units, 275,000 square feet of office space and 221,000 square feet of new retail would be less likely to cause significant problems. Now, planning commissioners must study whether those increases will be enough to jump-start downtown, beginning with public hearings Nov. 14 and Dec. 12.

“When you think about downtowns that are really lively, any nearby residential base really helps out,” said Dan Zack, Redwood City’s downtown development manager. “A couple thousand units is big — when you think about Oakland adding 10,000 units, there’s no reason for us to be down about building 2,500.”

A regional examination of traffic affects predicted that increasing downtown’s density could worsen traffic on U.S. Highway 101 as far away as Highway 92, unless Caltrans adds an auxiliary lane through Redwood City — a prospect considered unfeasible by city planners.

However, building to the maximum would not significantly affect other issues, such as wastewater capacity and emergency access, as long as mitigating measures are taken, according to the report.

Environmental studies such as this one are meant to look at worst-case scenarios, according to Planning Commission Chair John Seybert.

“This plan looks at what would happen if it were truly built out,” Seybert said. But many have predicted that with Redwood City’s small, unusual lot sizes, creating even 2,500 new units could be tricky, according to Zack.

Some downtown business owners are undaunted by the prospect of any increases in traffic.

“People on the Peninsula are spoiled — people who are accustomed to being able to park 50 feet away will have to park two blocks away,” Fox Theatre owner John Anagnostou said. “People are going to park [further away] for free, or take the train, ride a bicycle, walk, or take a bus.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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