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Downtown projects create parking dilemma
December 07, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

The recent construction boom in downtown Redwood City is proving to be a double-edged sword for the city, signaling an economic upturn complete with new housing options but clogging streets and making it harder to find parking.

In the next three years, housing units are expected to spike as large-scale projects like the Kaiser Medical Center rebuild also finish up. While completion will bring its own parking needs, current construction is crimping limited availability downtown because between 300 and 500 workers need spots for their vehicles at any given time.

The workers have filled some private spaces at Kohl’s and Target store lots but also take up stalls the city prefers to have open for patrons of downtown businesses. Road blocks and lot closures only add to the congestion and city officials say it’s not going away any time soon.

"It’s the good and bad of being successful,” Community Development Director Bill Ekhern told the City Council at its recent meeting.

Hoping to soften the existing challenges and prepare for upcoming developments, the city is looking at ways to get out ahead of the situation.

All construction going forward must have a parking plan to secure the necessary permits and developers must meet with city officials monthly to coordinate parking for the next two to three years.

While the Kaiser expansion is probably the most significant project downtown, Ekhern said the city is also in the midst of several other developments including 300 housing units by Greystar Development on Winslow Street and 116 units under construction now at 201 Marshall St. Projects coming up or anticipated include housing on the San Mateo Credit Union block bound by Veterans, Middlefield Road, Bradford Street and Jefferson Avenue, property on the block bound by Main, Bradford, Walnut and Marshall streets, the Block 2 office project and the city-owned parking lot at Winslow and Hamilton streets.  

"These projects really show the pent-up demand for housing in Redwood City,” Ekhern said.

As an example of just how tight parking has gotten downtown, Councilman Ian Bain pointed out how difficult it has become to find space to attend a Monday night council meeting at City Hall on Middlefield Road let alone a more popular weekend entertainment event. Work is under way to relocate a storm culvert underneath the Middlefield Road parking lot as part of the Redwood Tower mixed-used buildings near Theatre Way. Middlefield Road traffic is blocked and parking limited.

The mixed-use complex to be built nearby will eventually offer 200 parking spaces but, for the next two years, the situation is one of fewer rather than more spots.

"There’s going to be a really difficult three years and we want to let the public know how we’re going to go about it,” Ekhern said. "The downtown needs to thrive through this period. It can’t just stop.”

Having workers park at the port or elsewhere and shuttle to construction sites was raised by Councilwoman Barbara Pierce at the meeting but City Manager Bob Bell said that solution poses its own challenges when laborers need to be close to their tools.

Union agreements also start the clock running at the moment of parking so shuttling would carry a financial piece for projects, not to mention the question of who would pay for the vehicle service, Ekhern said.

Bain suggested the council ask if this is a good time to start thinking about adding another deck to existing downtown parking garages.

Redwood City has also received grant money for a new parking meter system that lets users track open spaces with a phone application.

By Ekhern’s calculation, there were 810 residential units downtown prior to the city’s adoption of the precise plan. In the next three years, there will be 1,726 units in both downtown and outside of it, plus 3,609 public parking spots.

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: michelle@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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