Redwood City leaders hint at desire for development slowdown after 6-year building boom

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City Council members in Redwood City on Monday night wrestled with how to guide new office and apartment projects in the rapidly developing downtown area — and how easy they should make those endeavors for developers.

While the six-person council didn’t take any votes related to the plan, each council member indicated that it may be time to see some slow-down in Redwood City’s growth. Council Member Diane Howard recused herself from the discussion because of financial interests.

For the past six years, development in Redwood City’s downtown core has been fast-tracked due to a long-term planning document called the Downtown Precise Plan, which preemptively completed the environmental work for 2,500 new residential units, 100,000 square feet of retail, 500,000 square feet of new office space and 200 new hotel rooms.

Development caps for downtown office space and apartment are being hit now — about a decade faster than city planners had anticipated. There’s still plenty of room for retail and hotel development in the plan.

That’s not an entirely bad problem to have, said Mayor John Seybert.

“If this was a business and we hit our targets like that, we’d be (considered) wildly successful,” he said. “Having said that, there are certainly some challenges with that.”

Of the 15 residents and business owners who spoke to the council about the plan Monday, many said they felt fatigued by the fast development boom. Many of those in attendance did express support for additional housing development, particularly of affordable units.

Gary Johnson, a Redwood City resident and a partner at Menlo Park-based Acclaim Cos., was among those residents. Acclaim has built more than 100 residential units in Redwood City under the caps.

The company is also among the first to propose a project beyond the set maximums and is currently completing the environmental work to add 7,000 square feet of retail and 80,000 square feet of office space to the downtown area.

Johnson said he’s fine with no longer fast-tracking developments in the city.

“I believe that every project that comes to the city should be judged on its own merits, not whether it falls under a cap,” he told council members.

It’s unclear how much of a slowdown developers will see once the City Council takes action on a new set of policies that would govern downtown development. That likely won’t happen for at least several more months.

But none on the City Council Monday said they wanted to stop new projects from coming to the city.

At the same time, there also wasn’t much will among members to again have the city undertake the environmental work to keep development speeding along at the rate it has been for the past six years.

Instead, several council members said they’d like to explore options that would have developers completing their own environmental impact reports for projects. Such reports, which are a common requirement for projects across California, can be costly to developers and easily take years to complete.

Others on the council, including Seybert, said they’d like to enact a hybrid version of a downtown plan that would incentivize developers to help achieve some of Redwood City’s specific goals, like adding more affordable housing, building and maintaining park space and creating new retail uses on Main Street.

Council members agreed they should also assemble a community task force to discuss the city’s long-term growth as they consider the next version of the Downtown Precise Plan.

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