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Woodside meets Tuesday on college housing

 

A way forward is taking shape in what seemed an impasse between the town of Woodside and Canada College over the design and scale of a proposed two-building hilltop apartment complex that would provide 56 to 60 residences for college faculty and staff.

The matter is set for discussion at the Tuesday, Feb. 26, Town Council meeting, where council members will consider the idea of a subcommittee to "pursue design issues with the college and Redwood City," according to the agenda.

The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. in Independence Hall; the college housing discussion is the last item on the agenda.

The community college's 131-acre, 6,000-student campus straddles Redwood City and Woodside, with most of it located in Woodside, including the 3.8-acre site proposed for the apartments.

The college cannot proceed with construction until the Woodside council agrees to de-annex the 3.8 acres and redraw the town boundary to put those acres in Redwood City, where zoning laws allow multi-family buildings. The de-annexation must also be approved by the Local Agency Formation Commission, a San Mateo County agency whose oversight includes changes in jurisdictional boundaries.

The council could have approved the de-annexation on Feb. 12, but a council majority of Peter Mason, Dave Tanner, Dave Burow and Carroll Ann Hodges criticized the scale of the proposed two- and three-story apartment buildings. Councilwomen Deborah Gordon and Sue Boynton spoke in support of redrawing the boundary line.

The disagreements led Ms. Gordon to propose putting off a de-annexation decision "to a date uncertain," and a unanimous council agreed. In May 2007, the council had endorsed the concept of on-campus housing in a county where rents are often too high for middle- and low-income wage earners. Mr. Mason and Mr. Burow were not on the council at that time.

"I'm reeling at the decision you have made," Barbara Christiansen, the college's director of community relations, told the council after the vote. Relying on the council's 10-month-old expression of support, the college spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" on plans for the apartments, she said.

"This is the first we have heard that Woodside is going back on its word," she said. "I think you're holding this project hostage."

"We are not going back on our word," Mayor Ron Romines replied evenly. The council has been attending to other business, he said. "I don't think it's our fault. It's the way things work."

In an interview, Mr. Romines said the council's 2007 endorsement had been for a concept, not a design.

"What I would have liked to see happen is for (the college) to come back to the council earlier in the design process," he said. "I can't fault them for not doing that. It's kind of the way these things come about. ... I think we did the best that we could, given the situation that we found ourselves in."

Councilman Mason, an architect and former member of Woodside's Architecture and Site Review Board, told the Almanac that he didn't see the project being derailed. He recommended a design similar to Stanford University's graduate housing on Sand Hill Road near El Camino Real. The three-story complex has design elements that lend it a two-story appearance, he said.

"By working your site a little bit differently, that tends to have less impact on the neighbors," he said. "A lot of Woodside does look at (this site). That's kind of the point. It's a very prominent project."

"I do not want to see this project not happen," Mayor Romines told the Almanac. "One of the toughest problems (Bay Area colleges) face is attracting good teachers. It's a very difficult problem because of the incredible cost of housing in this area."

That the matter got on to the council's agenda is a consequence of complaints from college neighbors who live in Woodhill Estates, a Redwood City subdivision of single-family homes that looks up at the proposed apartment site.

The Woodside Planning Commission had endorsed a property line adjustment relevant to the project last Dec. 5, and Woodhill residents appealed that decision to the council. The residents cited the visual impact of the apartments and the potential they had to lower their own property values.

Staffing problems

In a 2002 survey, 18 percent of the San Mateo County Community College District's 1,700 employees said they planned to leave in three years, including 58 percent who cited "the inability to find or afford affordable housing," Ms. Christiansen said in an interview. A 2007 update yielded about the same result, she said.

The campus apartments would include garages, wood floors at the entrances and washer/dryer sets. Residents could walk to work, saving 167,000 commuter miles annually, she said. The Greenbelt Alliance and the Committee for Green Foothills support the project.

California requires cities and towns to build specific numbers of homes for people of middle to low incomes, a tricky issue for some well-to-do communities. Woodside would receive credit for 40 percent of the homes, Ms. Christiansen said.

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