Fate of 1.6+MM SQFT Mixed-Use Development Hangs in the Balance

Lowe, Sequoia Station, Redwood City, Safeway Inc., Transit Center, Perry
Rendering Courtesy

By Meghan Hall

The Sequoia Station Shopping Center sits at the core of downtown Redwood City and at 12-acres, represents a significant presence along El Camino Real across from the Redwood City Caltrain Station. Los Angeles-based developer Lowe, in collaboration with the property’s owners, has proposed a massive mixed-use project that would transform the aging property into a multi-modal mixed-use project. However, the project’s feasibility currently hangs in the balance; as proposed, the project would exceed current development caps put in place by Redwood City’s Downtown Precise Plan, originally adopted in 2011. Unless city officials approve an amendment to the DTPP, the Sequoia Station project remains infeasible, states project documents.

“The redevelopment of Sequoia Station Shopping Center is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to turn an outdated but pivotal site into a transit-focused downtown destination for Redwood City — commercial office space, affordable housing, modern retail, safe parking, and new pedestrian and bike connections that bridge downtown, El Camino Real and a key Caltrain station,” said Alan Chamorro, senior vice president of Lowe.

The property is currently owned by several entities, including Regency Centers, Safeway Inc. and Sam Trans. Two adjacent properties, totaling roughly 5.5 acres, are owned by the Transit Center and Perry. Together, the parcels are called the “Transit Sub-Area,” of which Sequoia Station will be a part. Current plans for the property include 1.635 million square feet of office, of which 1.4 million will be located at Sequoia Station alone. 175,000 square feet of activated, neighborhood-serving ground floor retail are also part of the plans, and will include a Safeway and CVS, as well as other current tenants at Sequoia Station.

The project will also include 440 residential units, of which between 200 to 225 will be built on the Sequoia Station site, with an additional 200 units on the property currently owned by the Transit Center. Affordable housing developer Eden is also working on the project to provide affordable housing that will exceed the 15 percent DTPP requirement. Lowe and the property owners hope to provide 100 percent affordable housing on the Sequoia Station site.

“This is a very complex project that aims to provide ambitious and expensive public benefits, including a significant land grant to Caltrain to support rail improvements in alignment with the Caltrans 2040 Plan,” continued Chamorro. “Sequoia Station has the opportunity to be an unbelievable asset for the City — and a major driver of economic activity in downtown Redwood City – as well a pivotal way to connect Redwood City’s neighborhoods to the train station, the Downtown core and housing and jobs throughout the region.”

Additional community benefits, such as new bike planes, elimination of surface parking in favor of underground and surface  parking, and additional community benefits such as family entertainment, childcare, artists spaces, are also being considered.

At present, the development team has asked for a General Plan Initiation Request, which would allow them to study the potential impact of amending the DTPP to move forward with the current plans for development. If the request is granted by City Council, then a formal development application will be submitted. According to Chamorro, the project can conform to the majority of the framework already laid out in the DTPP, but the development team is hoping to study lower office-parking ratios, additional permitted heights and architectural character, among other factors.

“It is important to note that we have only asked for the right to study these exceptions, and depending upon neighborhood feedback, the exceptions may or may not make it into our final application package,” explained Chamorro. “Because of the caps on downtown development in Redwood City, this project, like all others in the downtown, cannot move forward without a General Plan Amendment. We hope that the city council sees fit to allow our team the opportunity to explore a project that can provide meaningful, long-term public benefits to Redwood City and the region when it considers our request later this fall.

A letter written by Lowe to the Redwood City Officials in September puts in in plainer language: “Without a General Plan Amendment, Sequoia Station cannot be redeveloped and will remain in its current state – an outdated, car-centric, neighborhood-serving commercial center.”

As part of the DTPP, which covers 183 acres of Redwood City’s historic downtown, mixed-use and high-density development is limited to a few sites along Main Street and El Camino Real, where currently higher-density residential above ground floor retail and offices can be found.  If the City chooses to approve the General Plan Amendment, Lowe will submit a formal application in 2020, kicking off the formal planning and environmental review processes.

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