Lawsuit won't halt Redwood City revitalization

The city has no plans to halt downtown development, despite a lawsuit accusing the city’s revitalization plans of violating California environmental laws.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Joe Carcione Jr., claims that Redwood City’s newly adopted plans for downtown won’t protect existing buildings from shadows cast by new, taller buildings, and will also not protect historic properties from demolition and redevelopment. Those plans, adopted by the City Council in March, are aimed at revitalizing downtown with new businesses, up to 3,600 new residences and better access for those who walk or use Caltrain.

Carcione says his law firm, at 601 Brewster St., will be shadowed all day if eight-story buildings are constructed next door, as new plans allow.

“He will be in total shadow for certain parts of the year, even though the city encourages natural sunlight [in construction],” Carcione’s attorney, Greg Ryken, said. Redwood City has inconsistently pursued shadow studies — including ones for the Marina Shores Village and a condominium plan at 885 Woodside Road, but not for the downtown plan, which allows buildings up to 12 stories tall, Ryken added.

“We believe the issues of shadowing and historic structures were adequately addressed,” City Attorney Stan Yamamoto said.

While the city plans to fight the lawsuit, it won’t put new development on hold while the case heads to court, Yamamoto said.

The Renaissance, a new condominium project slated for construction next door to Carcione’s building, could be the first under the new plans, according to city planner Charles Jany. Formal designs for the Renaissance have not been submitted.

When plaintiffs, such as Carcione, have challenged projects under the California Environmental Quality Act, judges have frequently erred on the side of the environment, according to CEQA expert Richard Grassetti of Grassetti Environmental.

“Visual and historic impacts are the two that are probably easiest to win on, although obviously there have to be some grounds,” Grassetti said. “Legally challenging a project’s environmental adequacy is the easiest way to stop a project.”

This is not the first time Redwood City has faced legal battles as its leaders move forward with downtown redevelopment. The city paid a $3 million settlement to James Celotti in 2004 after seizing Celotti’s downtown property to make way for the retail-cinema project at Broadway and Middlefield Road.

“I think when cities begin to undertake major revitalization efforts, people become uncomfortable with change,” Yamamoto said. “We’re trying to create a livelier place, not only for people who live here today but for people who will be here decades after we’re gone.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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