On the heels of a year that saw the proposed 20-unit Blithedale Terrace residential development dominate local debate for weeks at a time, it might surprise some to know that very little actually happened with the controversial project in 2012.
That should change in 2013, according to Mill Valley Planning Director Mike Moore, who said developer Phil Richardson has submitted a number of documents needed before the project could proceed, making it likely that the project could get back on the City Hall calendar as soon as May.
Richardson’s proposal had its last public hearing – for the Planning Commission to recommend certification of its final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) – in April 2012. That meeting ended quickly after Richardson’s attorney submitted a sharply worded letter and a project alternatives report that didn’t appear to meet the commission’s.
Since that time, there’s been no shortage of controversy, but most of it has centered on a squabble over anti-Blithedale Terrace signs. Project opponents erected the signs last summer on the property of Stephen Gregoire, whose East Blithedale Avenue home is adjacent to the 1.2-acre property at the base of Kite Hill near Camino Alto on which Richardson has proposed to build 20 homes between 1,100 and 2,000 square feet arranged along three parallel rows up the hillside. Of the 20 units, two would be reserved for lower-income households and two for moderate-income households.
Richardson responded by putting up a fence along his property line to block the signs, and then opponents just raised them higher.
Since that summer standoff, very little has happened, with opponents ratcheting up their campaign to defeat the project regardless of the city’s eventual decision on its merits.
Richard DiMaio, a board member of the Freeman Park Neighborhood Association and one of the leaders of the “Save Kate Hill” campaign, said the organization has spent the dormant months raising “substantial amounts of money,” with more donations coming in just this week.
The opposition to Blithedale Terrace, which involves six neighborhood associations, including that of Tamalpais Ave. residents across town, has garnered 1,100 signatures on a “Friends of Kite Hill” anti-Blithedale Terrace petition, both online and offline, DiMaio said.
The groups have already hired a land use attorney, Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, in the event that the city approves the project, as well as Richard Grassetti, an environmental consultant, and traffic consultant Pang Ho.
“People have really been waiting for something to happen on this project,” DiMaio said. “Getting 400 top 600 people down to the next Planning Commission meeting should not be an issue. People are constantly asking, ‘how can I help?’”
Richardson said he's made attempts to reach out to opponents and neighbors, both with an informal "chat session" about the project last month and in an op-ed column, largely to no avail.
At its last meeting on the project at the end of April, the Planning Commission decided that they wanted to have all of the project entitlements, including a General Plan Amendment, Rezoning, Design Review and Tentative Map, come back as part of the same agenda as the next hearing on the Final EIR. Because Richardson’s project dates back so many years – he bought the land in 2004 and the EIR process began in June 2006 - those materials “need to be updated to meet the city’s current requirements,” Moore said.
Richardson said that he intends to seek approval for a 20-unit project despite the vocal opposition and many calls from within the community to reduce the number of units. He has continued to point that the city's Housing Element, which was last updated in 2003 and is getting an overhaul now as part of the General Plan update, includes the possibility of 20 residential units on his property (chart attached at right) as part of the city's ability to meet its regional housing allocations.
“I might as well have the city decide the number of units rather than the neighbors,” he said this week. “I want to build small houses for people who might not be able to afford to live in Mill Valley otherwise.”
“When I came to California in the 1950s, it was, ‘go west, young man,’ and now we’re all entrenched in our little enclaves and we don’t want anything to change because it might affect us,” Richardson continued. “That’s too bad.”
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