Leaders cautiously hopeful about downtown plan 

With Redwood City’s Planning Commission poised Tuesday to certify an environmental review of the new downtown precise plan, aimed at bringing vital retail and dense housing projects into the city’s urban core, officials are well aware that not all the best-laid plans come to fruition.

Generations of planners and business owners have had big dreams for downtown over the years — and some of those dreams have panned out better than others.

Broadway, downtown Redwood City’s once-straight thoroughfare, was rerouted in 1972 to connect with Marshall Street. Plans to close Broadway to cars andmake it a pedestrian mall never flourished. Now, cars have a hard time finding their way downtown, according to Bob Bryant, owner of Bob’s Courthouse Café.

Later on, planners hoped to create a pedestrian pathway along Hamilton, complete with a mid-street fountain and a "yellow brick road" leading commuters to Sequoia Station; to date, there’s still no direct connection between that shopping center and downtown, except across the Caltrain tracks.

"What will happen to the (current) plan in five years is anybody’s guess," Planning Commission Chair John Seybert said. "I hope it’s a document that will have some flexibility to it, so things can change."

Plans have changed even recently. The new retail-cinema complex, which opened last summer, originally was expected to include a second building across Middlefield Road with offices and parking — an idea abandoned when the dot-com bust sank the local commercial real estate market, Seybert said.

The precise plan offers an opportunity to correct past guidelines that didn’t bear fruit, according to Planning Manager Jill Ekas. For example, the city’s 1990 general plan included a downtown housing-density cap of 40 units per acre and the same parking requirements as for houses in the suburbs.

"That combination didn’t turn on residential development downtown," Ekas said.

The new plan allows denser housing and ground-floor retail, and proposes not only fewer parking stalls per residence, but maximums on the amount of parking a housing developer can build.

Another thing the precise plan could help prevent is situations something like what happened in the 1980s, when a property owner sold a block of downtown land to Home Savings & Loan, evicting 20 thriving businesses, according to Bryant. The plan calls for specific uses — retail, restaurants, and small, dense clusters of neighborhood-serving uses like dry cleaners and corner stores.

The Redwood City Planning Commission meets Tuesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 1017 Middlefield Road.

bwinegarner@e xaminer.com

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Beth Winegarner

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