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Old Posted Aug 27, 2007, 10:15 PM
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Redwood City Tries to Revive Development Project Rejected by Voters

Clara Long Mar 13 2007 News

Redwood City, Calif.– In a quest for higher density housing, Redwood City officials are entertaining a proposition for a mixed-use high density development on bay side land, even though a similar proposal by the same company was defeated by popular referendum 3 years ago.

Developer Paul Powers first proposed the project, now known as Peninsula Park, to the city as the Marina Shores Village in 2000. The city council gave him the green light but opponents, led by an environmental group called Friends of Redwood City, orchestrated a citywide referendum rejecting the project. Less than two years later Powers came back to the city with a scaled down but largely similar high-rise project that may still have to run the gauntlet of citizen opposition.

At the heart of the political maneuvering over the waterfront development lies an alignment of interests between the private developer, whose plans maximize the land-use value of the site, and city officials, who are convinced of the need for Redwood City to increase the density of its residential areas.

But some Redwood City residents are not keen to see the waterfront areas of their community start to look like the big city. And those wary of bay side development may be in for a long fight as an adjacent chunk of industrial land, the former Cargill salt fields, comes up for redevelopment.

In 2000, Powers, who represents the San Mateo and Denver-based developer, Glenborough-Pauls, LLC, envisioned a $1 billion housing, retail, hotel and office construction on the east side of Rt. 101 with condominium high rises up to 23 stories. Those opposed to the project cited concerns about the height of the proposed buildings, their environmental impact, and the traffic they would generate.

In Powers’ scaled-back proposal the condominiums shrank to 10 stories, and the overall area is reduced to 33 instead of 46.5 acres. The plan would still intersperse shops, a hotel and nearly 800 new residences on bay-water canals overlooking nearby Bair Island.

Residents were able to stop Marina Shores Village because Powers is required to ask the city for new zoning. An impound car storage lot currently on the property complies with the area’s “general commercial” zoning, which allows for a wide variety of commercial and retail uses but not homes.

“It’s the act of rezoning that’s causing us to be vulnerable to a referendum,” Powers said.

“Here is what a lot people ask me,” Powers said. “You’ve been working on this 7 years, why don’t you just take the zoning you have?”

According to Powers, city officials told him not to use the current zoning when he bought the land.

“The city leadership told us emphatically,” said Powers. “You may have the zoning for office but you need to know up front that we, the city leadership, want housing.”

“You don’t want to fight city hall,” he said.

But Redwood City resident, Matt Leddy, and his group, Friends of Redwood City, did.

Leddy, who is a Horticulture professor at San Mateo college was one of what he estimates to be a dozen activists who ran the 2004 referendum campaign against Powers’ project.

“We told voters about the traffic problems and the height, and then the public made their own decision,” Leddy said.

Blake Lyons, Redwood City senior planner in charge of the project, said community opposition to the proposal “took the developer by surprise” three years ago.

“It wasn’t until more active folks got involved that it got people to pay attention and start to think about it,” Lyons said.

City officials were also taken by surprise. Redwood City’s mayor, Barbara Pierce said the project failed in the referendum primarily because of concerns over the high-rise housing.

“We are basically a suburban community, so when the developer wanted to go really high they pushed the envelope and I think they pushed it too far,” Pierce said. She voted to approve the original project.

Pierce, who gave an interview by phone between sessions at a smart growth and urban design conference in Los Angeles this weekend, said she hoped Glenborough-Pauls would propose a similar project on the site to address what she called Redwood City’s “tremendous need for housing.”

“I think Paul Powers knew the city was interested in talking to him again. And, why not? We,” she said, referring to the city council, “had already approved it.”

But neither city officials nor the developer wants the project to prompt another referendum.

“I think we need to work to involve people in the city process so that they understand that they are not being sacrificed for the developers,” Pierce said.

To that end, the city contracted the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center, a San Mateo nonprofit that promotes the use of non-adversarial solutions to conflict, to run its community outreach program for the project. In three workshops last fall Leddy and other Redwood City residents met with city officials and Paul Powers to air concerns about the Peninsula Park proposal.

“The city is very open to comments,” said Leddy of Friends of Redwood City. “The thing is what they do with those comments.”

Leddy said he agrees the city needs new housing, but most of it should be constructed in urban in-fill projects in the downtown area. Buildings on the Peninsula Park site, he added, should stay under 75 ft, or the current zoning.

“You can’t have your head in the sand,” he said. “We’re not against building housing out there. But what is the community getting for the additional height?”

The group has not yet taken a position on the new project.

“We’re waiting to see what kind of options are presented,” he said.

Community opposition to new high-rises in peninsula cities is a growing phenomenon, according to Richard Walker, a University of California Berkeley geography professor who studies urban development.

“The fact of the matter is people don’t want the density,” he said. “The peninsula is not the ‘burbs’ anymore. It’s the center”

But he added, “there are legitimate concerns about space and environmental impacts and traffic.”

Walker said the kind of ‘mixed-use’ development Powers envisions has become the darling of city planners and developers alike in recent times.

“Developers love them because they can maximize their return and reduce risk at the same time” he said. If one sector of the real estate market falters—as prices for office space have in recent years—projects are buoyed by high prices in another sector.

Powers expects the city’s consultants to finish a Peninsula Park addendum to the previous Marina Shores Village environmental impact report by the end of the month. At that time, the project will go before the city’s Planning Commission.

The story of Peninsula Park may foreshadow an even bigger struggle over development. Cargill Inc. announced last June that it would soon wind down its salt production operations on 1,400 acres immediately south of the proposed Peninsula Park project. Cargill then formed the Redwood City Industrial Saltworks LLC in partnership with DMB Associates, a regional residential developer with a reputation for overcoming community opposition to development. The partnership is seeking only to “determine the future use of” the property at this point, according to their website.

The Friends of Redwood City are ramping up for a battle.

“If they develop out there, the traffic would be a nightmare,” said Leddy. “We need that marsh for the health of the bay,” he said.

John Bruno, the spokesperson for Redwood City Industrial Saltworks, said the company does not yet have a specific plan to present to the city. DMB Associates, he said, generally finds it most effective to ask for public input through direct mailings and workshops before initiating a development proposal.

“We find it’s a very disarming approach to go into a community and just listen,” he said.

After 7 years of constant attention to the Marina Shores Village and Peninsula Park projects, Paul Powers was unruffled when asked if the prospect of another housing development on the former Cargill land make him nervous about competition.

“The last thing we worry about on the peninsula is competition from more housing,” Powers quipped. “Nothing ever gets approved.”

“Poor Paul,” said Leddy at Powers’ comment. “We agree to disagree.”

© Stanford University

For those unaware, the Marina Shores Project was approved but defeated in citywide vote 3 years ago. The projects most prominent feature would be housing in the form of 17 towers 15-23 stories tall. It was to be east of the downtown Redwood City and the freeway, but quite a ways from the Caltrain station. If you would like to download some old documents

Here are some old images of a model made for the project @

To find out more about the Peninsula Park Project

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