In North Fair Oaks, a battle brews for redevelopment | News

Like many other neighborhoods along the peninsula, North Fair Oaks has recently become a hotbed of new development. Text messages and phone calls from developers wishing to purchase residents’ homes, often in cash, are the norm. But many believe the past year ushered in a new era, thanks in large part to Thomas James Homes, a Los Angeles-based real estate agency that has become a ubiquitous (and, by many, hated) name in parts of the Peninsula. . and the southern bay.

Founded in 2006, the company has since expanded into northern and southern California, Seattle, Denver and Phoenix, building more than 800 “luxury residences” in what its website calls “top zip codes. from the country “. Since establishing an office in the Bay Area in 2018, it has built around 70 homes with another 110 in various stages of construction.

Since arriving last December in North Fair Oaks – the largest unincorporated area in San Mateo County, located between Redwood City and Menlo Park – TJ Homes has purchased half a dozen properties, demolishing existing homes and building bigger and more expensive houses in their place.

In many ways, TJ Homes is like any other developer looking to make a profit in a booming market. The east side of North Fair Oaks is an obvious target, with its dense tree canopy, access to good public schools, and proximity to downtown shopping malls.

But, according to neighbors, when the first TJ Homes sign was posted in December 2020, something looked different.

“It’s actually quite alarming,” said Virginia Miller-Bowen, who has lived in the neighborhood for 12 years. “The amount of development that’s happening so quickly in a concentrated area. “

It wasn’t just the suddenness with which TJ Homes started buying properties that put residents on high alert, but the fact that $ 1.5 million ranch-style homes were turning into mansions for two. floors that dominate adjacent houses and sell for double the cost price.

“My patio, my bedroom, my living room, my other bedroom, my bathroom, they all face west,” said Susanne Beattie, 36-year-old resident, who lives next door to one of the new developments in TJ Homes. “And now they’re there, 5 feet apart, building a house just a few inches below 27 feet. And the second story has nine windows facing me.”

“Then we started to see more and more houses being bought by TJ Homes,” said resident Niket Sirsi.

Alarmed by both the new housing and the cutting down of trees as part of the redevelopment, residents have created a website, collected signatures for a petition to protect the canopy, and planted accusatory signs on their lawns. “Say no to TJ Homes” became their rallying cry. They created spreadsheets to track new developments and permits for tree cutting. They began to review every move by TJ Homes, documenting alleged violations such as after-hours construction cases and damage to heritage trees.

According to TJ Homes, the company hopes to alleviate local housing needs by replacing deteriorating homes and expanding options for potential homeowners.

“When you look at what the community needs, they need all types of housing,” said Jon Tattersall, president of the TJ Homes office in Northern California. “We are generally improving the current state. We are adding square footage for multigenerational homes. We have people raising families who need more space.

“Not everyone is looking for a two bedroom, two bathroom house built in 1945,” he added. “If there was no demand for the homes that we were providing, you would see a lot of vacant homes, right? But what you see is that there is no vacant housing and we are severely under-supplied.

But Laura Caplan, resident and current president of the Fair Oaks Beautification Association, an urban forestry volunteer group, said the new developments pose a threat to potential owners of North Fair Oaks, which she called “the last area.” affordable “in the Peninsula.”

According to the 2014-2022 County Housing Component, North Fair Oaks, which has 4,228 units according to the 2020 Census, has a relatively high concentration of low and moderate income households. Although 30% of the area’s homes were built 60 years or more ago, house prices have skyrocketed recently. In the past five years alone, the median home price in San Mateo County has nearly doubled, from $ 1,350,000 in October 2016 to $ 2,110,000 in October 2021, according to historical housing data from the California Association of Realtors. Redfin reported a 100.2% increase in home prices in November, compared to a year ago, with homes selling for a median of $ 2 million.

At the same time, a recent community needs survey, conducted in conjunction with the Stanford Graduate School of Education, found that housing is one of the main issues for residents of Redwood City and North Fair Oaks. The survey also indicated that housing insecurity, which affects a third of tenants, has increased significantly since the pre-pandemic period.

“TJ Homes is probably going to be part of this rapid gentrification effect,” said Ever Rodriguez, North Fair Oaks board member. “Because it’s in their minds to buy very affordable properties and then turn them around for a profit.”

Rodriguez, who has said he is “wholeheartedly supporting the residents of North Fair Oaks in trying to voice their concerns,” fears TJ Homes is expanding westward to the predominantly Latin Redwood City side. American. “It’s a problem for the whole community,” he added.

District 4 supervisor Warren Slocum, who is in talks with neighbors, said he understands their concerns.

“What this represents is a large-scale shift for a community moving from what it was in a bygone era to a more Atherton-like feel,” he said.

For its part, Tattersall understands that residents are protecting their neighborhood and said “development is a responsibility” that TJ Homes takes seriously, including having entire departments dedicated to neighborhood relations and community development. He thinks the problem isn’t so much with the new homes themselves.

“The mistake we made, frankly, is to have two or three active projects going on at the same time,” he said. “And not really understanding what the impacts would be on the whole neighborhood.”

In recent months, TJ Homes – which filed documents for its IPO last September and is currently valued on the NASDAQ at over $ 588 million – has worked to rebuild trust with the neighbors of North Fair. Oaks. This has slowed development, increased communication, and showed up at community events, like a recent North Fair Oaks Community Council meeting last month.

On November 18, the company’s director of community development, Deanne Green, and executive vice president of asset management, Adam Kates, addressed the community with a half-hour presentation on their goals. as a real estate developer and how they hope to improve neighborly relations. .

Kates explained that, from their perspective, the homes they are removing “have reached the end of their useful life” and are being replaced with “well-designed, energy-efficient and sustainable homes that meet the needs and wants of families in need. ‘today and households. “

Tattersall said he is doing everything possible to facilitate communication with the community, including sharing his personal contact details and sending out a weekly email newsletter informing neighbors of their progress. But he said neighbors seemed unwilling to acknowledge TJ Homes’ efforts to improve relations and felt they were “overly watched.”

“I think we are presented as something worse than who we really are,” he said. “There’s a bit of nimbyism when it comes to new developments. And I think people try to portray us as bad people.”

This article is the first in a series from The Almanac’s sister publication, Redwood City Pulse, covering the redevelopment of North Fair Oaks


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