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Blithedale Terrace Project Back on Track, Heads to Commission

Developer submits a number of necessary project documents, awaits the next face-off with vehement opponents.

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.”

Here's what else is happening on Mill Valley Patch

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MillValleyMom February 21, 2013 at 04:55 PM
If Governor Brown changes CEQA how will this affect this development? I heard he wants to streamline things.
Francine February 21, 2013 at 04:58 PM
I recognize that the developer would like people to believe that this is solely a philanthropic endeavor by providing 4 out of 20 homes that fall into the "low to moderate income" category which he is required to provide, but he fails to note how he will make up the difference by charging very high rents for the remaining 16 units to cover his loss. There are so many issues - too many units in such a small location reaching over 80 feet high, lack of adequate access for emergency vehicles, residents only being able to turn right out of the driveway and being forced to traverse through the neighborhoods or making illegal left turns, TRAFFIC (which is already at a failed acceptance level) - just to name a few. What is most disconcerting is that the developer is immoveable in the number of units he is bullying the City to allow by threat of a lawsuit. Those opposing this project want a MUCH SMALLER number of units and that discussion which we have attempted to have with the Richardson has fallen on deaf ears. This is not the 1950's. This isn't a NIMBY issue. This is an issue of being reasonable - building a project that is appropriate for the site, something Richardson is unwilling to consider at any level. He has a right to build on his property. Opponents are requesting/fighting for REASONABLE development. In 2013, with everything already built around this location, this is not reasonable by any stretch of the imagination for a lot of this size.
Rebecca Chapman February 21, 2013 at 11:43 PM
maybe we could have this meeting at the deuce?
Penni Gladstone February 22, 2013 at 01:07 AM
The wildlife on this mountain will lose their habitat. There is at least one fox family. Stop this devastation.
Geoff Flint February 22, 2013 at 01:42 AM
It just seems that this whole project is not what Mill Valley wants or needs. We have a zoning board for a reason. They need to reject this project for the citizens that they represent.
Bob Silvestri February 22, 2013 at 04:02 AM
Just a footnote to your comments, which I agree with: The developer actually doesn't have a "right" to build multifamily on this site. The site is zoned PA so he has a right to build an office building. He is requesting a residential zoning, which requires a rezoning, and to get that he has to propose a reasonable project to get the "rights" he needs. And there are other issues. It is not confirmed what Richardson intends to do if he gets an approval. There's nothing stopping him from either flipping the site to another developer, for a profit, or selling the "market rate" units instead of renting them. It baffles me why the city is always so timid about asking a developer to provide his cost / income / expense estimates, instead always taking the developer's word for it that "if I can't build this as proposed, I will lose money." I find those kinds of arguments very suspect. Finally, there is an issue no one seems to be talking about and it's this. Is this a PD multifamily project on one lot, or is the developer actually trying to get away with doing a "subdivision" of 20 separate lots? If he's subdividing, the whole project is dead on arrival since it violates numerous regulations in our subdivision ordinance.
RD February 23, 2013 at 01:45 AM
This project just makes no sense.
415 Style February 23, 2013 at 05:06 AM
Word. I live and work right near there. Traffic is a nightmare. Everyday. WTHeck?
Rico February 23, 2013 at 06:17 PM
Bob, I have a question about subdividing the project into 20 lots. How if a building is multi-family and multi story can the lot be subdivided ? If each buiulding has 5 units, then what constitutes a lot ? Even in San Francisco they built real single family houses very close together in some districts, but they are actually separate structures on separate lots, not sharing walls, ceilings, floors, grounds and common area maintenance like condo/apartment /townhome projects do as in the Richardson proposal.
Bob Silvestri February 24, 2013 at 03:41 AM
Richardo: As I understand it, from the plans I've seen in the past, these are town house units with zero lot lines, no shared walls. Or at least most of them are, so it's a good question which I hope gets raised at the hearing.
Rico February 25, 2013 at 04:43 PM
Bob, I always thought that the definition of a town home or condominium is that they always share walls, at least one. But now you say that the plans show these are "town houses", does that mean that they are detached from one another. Is this a new building concept ? Cramming in detached houses in a commercial zone on a very busy street calling the apartments "town houses"
Cory Creath February 25, 2013 at 07:42 PM
All the nimbyites in Mill Valley need to take a deep breath for a moment and ask yourselves why you keep throwing out silly reasons to oppose a few new houses. We can't freeze out reality. Seriously, every time a new project is proposed people declare the end of the world, and then after it is built, it is like everyone forgets what all the fuss was about. The resulting traffic increase is not even perceivable, and somehow the foxes find a new place to live.
Bob Silvestri February 26, 2013 at 12:53 AM
Ricardo: "Town house" is an architectural term that is applied to all kinds of designs and construction, though it generally means a fee simple owned single family home. "Condominium" is a legal term that is a method of joint ownership of common real property. You can "condo" anything from boat slips to trailer parks to townhouses under the right circumstances. But regarding the Richardson project, the question is which is it? I only ask that the PC look at this carefully.
Bob Silvestri February 26, 2013 at 12:56 AM
Cory: It's interesting to me that you fail to disclose that you are an architect who makes a living doing these kinds of projects: you were the architect of the Von der Werth multifamily project that was one of the original Miller Avenue, oversized, "pipeline" projects.
Rico February 26, 2013 at 03:29 AM
Thanks Bob, But what is a townhome ? I have worked in some large houses in Pacific Heights that were "condoized". What a nightmare ! The tenants were always worried about their tenancy in common (TIC) neighbors finding out about what is being done in their condo. They told me to park down the street, and haul my tools in discretely, so nobody would know that they were doing any modifications to the building, which was a shared entity. I don't see any advertisement s for town houses any more , only town homes. I do wonder why this is, is it because advertising a town home as a house would be construed as false advertising ?
RD February 26, 2013 at 03:51 AM
Cory - this is not a few houses (if only) it is 20 townhouses rising over 80 feet into the sky, at the busiest intersection in Mill Valley. There is a reason why over 1,100 and counting MV residents have signed a petition - the largest in MV history, and donated money. Please find out more about this particular project, and then restate your opinion. I am certain you will see that such a large project at this particular location does not make sense. I am sure you are a reasonable person and will come to a reasonable conclusion.
415 Style February 26, 2013 at 06:12 AM
@cory-- I hear you. The other developments--I know what you're talking about. That was stupid opposition, this is valid. This is different.
RD February 28, 2013 at 02:48 AM
Thanks for all the city wide support: www.facebook.com/SaveKiteHill
Fight Overdevelopment March 19, 2013 at 07:16 PM
Why don't communities just get the cajones to tell ABAG and the state to go to hell, keep your money and we'll keep our local control.

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