Vision of Redwood City downtown reimagined

Picture an eight-story condominium complex rising above the shops of downtown, with a steady stream of residents heading out to a nearby sushi restaurant or returning from a show at the Fox Theatre.

“That would be huge for downtown, to get more people downtown,” Nancy Radcliffe, a planning commissioner and former downtown business owner, said of new housing. “It would put so much energy onto the street.”

City leaders hope that vision can soon be a reality. After more than a year of rewriting in response to a San Mateo County judge’s ruling, officials are preparing to reconsider the Downtown Precise Plan, which outlines a block-by-block vision for a pedestrian-focused shopping district with up to 2,500 units of housing.

Developers would be able to construct buildings up to 12 stories in some areas under the proposed plan and could speed through the planning process if they comply with guidelines on components such as landscaping and architectural style.

The city hopes the new plan will resolve a lawsuit filed by downtown attorney Joe Carcione, who argued that the city did not properly study the plan’s potential to cause shadowing in downtown or impact historic resources.

Superior Court Judge Marie Weiner sided with Carcione in April 2008, and the City Council opted to rescind the plan rather than continue to fight in court.

The revised plan lowers building heights in areas where historic properties or public spaces could be impacted by shadows, and it includes a new environmental impact report with a section on shadowing. The draft environmental document will be considered by the planning commission Sept. 21.

Carcione said he still doesn’t believe the revised plan complies with the judge’s ruling, saying the city hasn’t done a full shadow study and ignored advice from its historic resources committee on other aspects of the plan.

“They’re totally disregarding the judge and moving ahead,” Carcione said.

But, Councilwoman Barbara Pierce said the city worked hard to address the judge’s ruling and make the plan better. Pierce said the legal setback and the slumping economy have been challenges for downtown, but she hopes the plan will help attract new projects. 

“I think there’s real interest, that people will want to take some action once the plan is put into place,” Pierce said. “And then we’ll just have to work with the real world.”

Downtown timeline

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 of shadowing and historic resources

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

March 2010:
Planners release a revised version of the downtown plan

September 2010: Planning commission scheduled to consider environmental studies of revised plans

sbishop@sfexaminer.com

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