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Blithedale Terrace Developer to Host 'Chat Session' About Project

Tiburon resident Phil Richardson says that before his 20-unit project heads to the Planning Commission on June 25, he wants to speak with neighbors in an informal setting.

Although the history of his proposed 20-unit Blithedale Terrace residential project dates back to 2004, developer Phil Richardson has been quick to point to anyone who will listen that his oft-debated proposal has yet to have an actual public hearing over its specific merits.

That is set to change next month, when the Mill Valley Planning Commission is scheduled to both make a recommendation to the City Council regarding certification of the project's final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and deliberate over the project itself.

Before that happens, Richardson hopes to sit down with the project's neighbors, many of whom are vehement opponents of it, to discuss the project in a less formal setting than a public hearing. He's hosting a get-together about the Blithedale Terrace project in the Forest Room of the Mill Valley Community Center this Thursday, June 14, at 7 p.m.

"Let's just sit around a room and chat," Richardson said. "I'm happy to answer people's questions in a relaxed setting."

The project calls for the construction of 20 homes between 1,100 and 2,000 square feet arranged along three parallel rows up the hillside in the Kite Hill area near the intersection of East Blithedale Avenue and Camino Alto. Richardson bought the 1.2-acre parcel of land in July 2004. Of the 20 units, two would be reserved for lower-income households and two for moderate-income households. Richardson said he expects the development to house around 45 people.

The project is the subject of  for a variety of reasons, including its possible impact on traffic and safety in the area. The Blithedale Terrace property was included in the city’s 2003 Housing Element update as a place for a 20-unit residential development as part of the city’s efforts to meet housing allocation requirements from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).

Harry Andrews June 11, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Too many additional cars going through the intersection at East Blythedale and Camino Alto. The developer should be required to build an overpass or underpass before proceeding on his project
Susan Kirsch June 11, 2012 at 04:17 PM
I am one of many resident who have joined in "chatting" with Phil Richardson since 2004 when he first started making the rounds with his model of Blithedale Terrace. From the beginning, people have said, "It's too big. It's out of character with the neighborhood. It's creates safety issues. It will have terrible traffic impact. It destroys the aesthetic quality of the final foothill of Mt. Tam." Many times since 2004, neighbors have gathered to informally "chat" with him in living rooms and at neighborhood picnics. His appeal is always the same, and he comes back over and over again with an unchanged model for 20 units at the busiest intersection in Mill Valley. . . . Let's have less chat, more change.
John June 11, 2012 at 04:38 PM
It is my understanding that project's hearing has been moved from the June 25th date to July. Also, the identification in the 2003 Housing Element identified the lot as having the potential for up to 20 units, which is vastly different from the way Mr Richardson characterizes the site.
Linda Rames June 11, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Linda Rames It can take as much as 20 minutes to navigate that intersection and leave Mill Valley. And it is just as bad trying to enter the town. Why would the Planning Commission vote to add more congestion? Does anyone remember when the residents and the city of Mill Valley got together and bought Horse Hill? Maybe this site is worth that kind of effort.
Bob Reddick June 11, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Thank you Linda. I am one the the residents who helped to save Horse Hill from the same kind of self-serving, self-absorbed developers. I would be happy to contribute, once again, to stopping this latest attempt by a developer who is trying to take advantage of the attempt by ABAG to dictate the future quality of life for Mill Valley residents.
Alan Abrams June 11, 2012 at 11:37 PM
First, everyone please know that the Patch got it wrong (maybe for the first time!) by saying the Planning Commission meeting is June 25. It is not. That comes directly from the Director of Planning. Next, we all would like to see this hill remain in a natural state, but first we have to stop the 20 houses from being built. Stay tuned for notification of when in July the Planning Commission meeting will be. It's important because the discussion is not only about the EIR, we'll be weighing in on whether we like the project or not. Everyone's opinion counts!!
Jim Welte June 11, 2012 at 11:43 PM
All: John and Alan are correct as I was not aware of the date change. Apologies and thanks for pointing that out. I've changed it in the story.
Rico June 12, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Harry, Instead of an overpass or underpass, how about they place those proposed new units underground, and build a subway from the freeway to serve that project. Anything else should not be considered, so, they should scrap the whole thing if it is not cost effective to underground everything.
RD June 12, 2012 at 05:18 AM
I have a co-worker that lives in Corte Madera - she refuses to come play golf in Mill Valley or come shop at what use to be her favorite women's clothing stores - because traffic is just too terrible. "it takes forever to get in and out f Mill Valley these days". I have to admit I was taken aback by that comment. The current proposed project at this intersection is clearly impossible.
David Edmondson June 12, 2012 at 03:39 PM
I can't imagine how adding at most 40 cars per day to that intersection will make it worse. What's the Level of Service there anyway? Anyone know the grade?
Rico June 12, 2012 at 04:41 PM
David, I have not seen a report about the level of service at the E. Blithedale/Camino Alto intersection, but from my experience in traffic engineering and using that route frequently and recently, I would give it a level C-. What the proposed project would would probably bump the service level down to a level D, but that is just the intersection, there will be many other detrimental traffic problems past the intersection in front of the project. The question is, is this project really needed ? It's definitely not one of your beloved transit oriented developments, it is not workforce housing (as if any city of employee would want to live down in a noisy condo built on a main artery into M.V.), and due to the expenses on infrastructure paid for by the taxpayers, it is of no real value to the local economy of Mill Valley.
Rico June 12, 2012 at 04:50 PM
RD, It sounds like your co-worker has other reasons for not playing golf at the city of M.V. golf course. The traffic is not that bad, there are much worse traffic problems in other parts of Marin. Since your co-worker does not live in M.V., she probably doesn't know her way around very well, but the mo people who refuse to come to M.V. the bettah ! Let the locals use the streets.
David Edmondson June 12, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Thanks; that's not as bad as it was made out to be. C- is usually my cutoff point, though I dislike the whole LOS system (measure vehicle delay instead of person throughput is silly). It depends on what it might be needed for. More housing supply does lead to lower prices and, though it's not well-placed for TOD, at least it's on the 17 and is walkable/bikeable to just about anywhere else. On the other hand, it's greenfield development in a land of grayfield. I'm agnostic on it.
Rico June 12, 2012 at 07:56 PM
David, The traffic signal controllers can log traffic volume and density, but more information is needed when giving an intersection or group of intersections a service level rating. Time and delay studies must also be done, and that takes people with radios to do that, as far as I know the city of M.V. has not commissioned any time and delay studies, therefore, there probably has not been any service level designation established for that intersection. I used to do time and delay studies for other cities, and my grade was just extrapolated from my past experience, but it is not official in any way. The city of M.V. has only 5 signalized intersections and one on Camino Alto by Safeway which is for PED XING mid block for the Redwoods senior home. Mill Valley does have PE engineers, but no traffic engineering department or traffic engineers like larger cities have, (ie: San Rafael and Novato ) I seriously doubt that any service level studies have been done in Mill Valley, but if they have been done, the results were not made public.
David Edmondson June 12, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Don't worry, I take your estimation with appropriate levels of salt. A shame there isn't a real traffic study available for the intersection, since that's a primary point of contention. It would likely add ammunition to whichever side the grade comes down on.
Rico June 13, 2012 at 01:14 AM
To be honest, I don't think the citizens of Mill Valley need to pay consulting firms to do studies on any intersections. It is the people who live here that know how long they have to wait at signalized intersections. I have to use that intersection frequently, I know the timing sequence, and I know when it is my turn to get the green light. That signal is traffic actuated, and each phase will either max out or gap out, depending on the calls for service. As anyone who drives there knows, it is a very busy intersection during the day. Certainly not a very desirable place to live. That is the problem, why build high density expensive condos in a noisy area ? The developers think that they can sucker people from out of the area to plunk down huge amounts of cash to live next to a busy street. This project might end up like the Tamalpais Commons on lower Miller Ave. A dud, like the Millworks in Novato. Then the developers will do another about face and "apartmentize" the condos. Nobody wants to take out a 30 year loan (mortgage) only to get stuck in an undesirable location. Think about it, would you ?
David Edmondson June 13, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Sometimes one is surprised by the results of such surveys, and they're really valuable measures for the city and county. I'm actually a little surprised developers keep doing condos only to convert them to apartments. I'd consider an apartment there, though for a condo I'd want someplace more central. That said - why does it matter whether it's condos or apartments?
RD June 13, 2012 at 05:22 AM
It's more like 120 more car trips a day. Also, since traffic is always backed-up on E. Blithedale there is no way cars will be able to exit development and turn left, they will be forced to turn right towards downtown MV - then cut through local neighborhood. That intersection is already very difficult. You have a bus stop, bikers, and kids walking to school or community center. Come for visit David and you will get a much better idea.
Rico June 13, 2012 at 03:59 PM
David, I thought that you would know why developers are forced to turn their condo developments into apartments. It is because of the location chosen to build. Mixed use developments have been very unpopular for at least the last 12 years. Why ?. There are many reasons, like the noise and cooking fumes of the businesses down below, the proximity to busy downtown areas, air pollution, city light pollution, lack of privacy, extra surveillance, more restrictions restricting freedom, dangers of crime and traffic and worst of all the noise of living in a commercially zoned area. I do wonder why the developers keep building projects like the Millworks and the Tamalpais Commons, but I think it has to do with that is the only place they can get away with it, formerly using redevelopment tax money and train tax money has helped to boost the initial investment funding mechanisms. It doesn't really matter at all if you call them condominiums, town homes or apartments. When someone takes out a 30 year loan to live in a condo or townhome, they only own the inside walls, floors and ceilings, they will never own the buildings or the grounds, and are subject to thick books of bylaws dictating every aspect of their residency. If they get stuck or suckered into taking out such loans, and find out that they don't like the conditions, they can sell the loan. But, the way the real estate market has tanked, they are probably going to take a huge loss.
David Edmondson June 13, 2012 at 05:21 PM
You misunderstand - I know why condos get converted to apartments; I just don't get why developers build condos they suspect will need to become apartments. As an apartment dweller myself, it's a good fit for my lifestyle. I don't want a yard or a home to maintain, my work life is enough and I don't want to go home to more work. I don't want a car. I like the busy downtown areas, and most of the rest of the problems you mentioned (crime, fumes, privacy, noise, traffic [no car!]) don't apply to me. I can walk most places, bike where it's too far to walk, and bus where it's to far to bike, which is why I like the central location. But this is my lifestyle, not yours. I know you like the quiet of the hills, the privacy of your own yard; you'd never like to live where I do, though you'd appreciate visiting, and I'd find the same about your home. I like this project because it gives people a choice to live in a commercial area and walk to do a lot of their errands. I don't like this project because it's greenfield and I'm concerned about transit access, which is another way of saying I'm concerned about the traffic impact for longer-distance travel.
Rico June 13, 2012 at 06:51 PM
When you think about, the residents of Blithedale Terrace will be trapped by traffic. The street has such a high volume of traffic most hours of the day, they would have to put in a new traffic signal for a safe crosswalk there. And think about the residents pets. The risk of their pets being hit by cars is extremely high, so the animals will also be trapped by vehicle traffic. And what kinds of errands do people walk to do ? Certainly not shopping for groceries or supplies for the family, home business, hobbies or art projects. They won't need any landscape supplies because they will not own the grounds, and will be restricted from doing their own custom modifications to the building, except for maybe paint for the inside walls, as long as management approves the color ! Maybe a walk along busy E.Blithedale down to the bank, or to RiteAid for a cheap bottle of booze and a pack of cigarettes, but that's about the extent of errands
David Edmondson June 13, 2012 at 07:01 PM
People without cars do fine getting groceries, I see them every day. If they can't carry it all, they get a basket on wheels. It's really not a problem. The bar isn't far, the bank isn't far, schools aren't far, RiteAid is better for non-food items than Whole Foods (though Whole Foods does have better booze, which could be carried home easily), cafes, restaurants, parks, doctor's offices - all within a 5-10 minute walk, and downtown is just a 20 minute walk up the street.
Rico June 14, 2012 at 12:06 AM
Whole Foods sells booze ? I don't drink booze, but I thought that Whole Foods only sells beer and some wine. I know a person who does not drive a car, lives in a flat area and has a basket on wheels like you say. It does work most of the time, but for serious shopping I sport her in my car to go shopping at Trader Joe's. I most seriously doubt that anyone who can afford to move into a new condo at the Blithedale Terrace would be seen pushing a basket on E. Blithedale for groceries. Do you sport a basket David ?
RJ June 14, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Leaving aside any other thoughts I have about the Blithedale Terrace project, I must agree with David regarding the walkability of the area. I live in the flats of MV, just a few blocks from the proposed Blithedale Terrace, and I have been walking to Whole Foods to get my groceries for years (no pushcart, just a few sturdy reusable bags over my shoulders:-). I walk to downtown MV several times per week, to my children's schools, the parks, the pediatrician, restaurants, the post office, the library, etc. My husband walks to the bus stop to pick up the commuter bus into SF. One of the very best things about Mill Valley is that our family of four only needs one car and it still sits in the carport most of the time! The flats of MV are extremely walkable if you choose to take advantage of it.

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