Redwood City plan could revive forgotten creek 

There aren’t many places left where people can glimpse Redwood Creek, but plans are rolling ahead for a new mini-neighborhood that would create public access to the creek along Main Street east of Veterans Boulevard.

The creek once flowed aboveground from the San Francisco Bay all the way into downtown, bringing boats and port traffic into the heart of Redwood City. Over the years, most of the creek has been buried underground — and portions that remain aboveground have been surrounded by office buildings and fast-food restaurants whose backs face the waterway.

"The creek is out of sight, out of mind," said developer John Baer, who has come forward with plans to build 100 units of new housing facing the creek at 333 Main Street. "It is being treated as a second-class citizen, and it needs some loving attention."

After Baer made his initial proposal last year, officials first doubted the viability of housing on that part of Main Street, well away from other residential zones. The City Council asked city planners in late July to study rezoning a handful of parcels between Veterans Boulevard and Redwood Creek, including the sites of a Carl’s Jr., a Straw Hat Pizza and a former medical-office site in a way that would create a new mini-neighborhood near downtown, according to planner Jill Ekas.

The Planning Commission on Tuesday recommended the City Council approve the zoning changes necessary to turn the industrial-commercial zone into a place where housing is allowed, according to commission Chair John Seybert. Though commissioners support the concept, they asked planners to spend more time refining guidelines for what new housing developments should look like.

"I see this project as a key link between downtown and the Bayfront," Seybert said. "It’s a half-mile walk from transit, but in the end, it’s as good a project in terms of location as [recent developments such as] Villa Montgomery and Franklin Street."

Not only would the plans allow Redwood City to attract more housing, but 15 percent of new homes built along Main Street would be required to be set aside as affordable, according to planner Saleish Mera. It could be six weeks before the Planning Commission considers the proposal again, and months before it heads to the City Council.

Although Baer’s neighbors along Main Street have no plans to redevelop soon, many have said they’d be happy to build housing there when the time comes, he said.

"They are fully supportive of this plan, but is it going to happen next year? No," Baer said.

Saving Main Street a priority

Main Street is no longer the main drag, but local experts are working to make sure its historic features don’t fall by the wayside as developers make a beeline for downtown.

The original Main Street Historic District, established by the City Council in 2002, includes properties between Marshall and Middlefield roads, such as the Alhambra Theater and the Quong Lee Laundry. Other buildings on the Main Street corridor, however, were not protected by the district. The city’s Historic Resources Advisory Board is now hoping to protect everything from a pair of Victorian homes on Stambaugh Street to the historic firehouse that is now home to the Main Library on Middlefield, said board member Nancy Radcliffe.

"Main Street was a very prototypical ‘Main Street,’" said Redwood City planner Charles Jany, who tracks the city’s historic resources.

Back then — shortly after the downtown port was closed and moved to its current Bayside location — Main Street was the first to offer residents a convenient place to buy cars, furniture and food.

"This was the place to be, and the place to shop," Jany said.

If approved, the new historic designation would extend west along Stambaugh Street for a block or two. Protection would also extend along Middlefield to Jefferson, capturing the library and Forester’s Hall, built in 1913. Officials are considering historic designations for other downtown historical buildings such as the Fox Theatre and adjacent buildings, Jany said.

Radcliffe said that creating historic districts bring in a number of benefits, particularly for property owners, who can receive hefty tax breaks to keep up older buildings.

Such districts appeal to tourists who might like to imagine the city as it once was. They also keep historic sites from being torn down as the city moves ahead with downtown redevelopment plans.

"Whenever you have a lot of potential for development, that’s when you need to safeguard your resources," said Mitch Postel, president of the San Mateo County History Museum. "Thesethings disappear very quickly and easily unless you find ways to protect them."

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