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Blithedale Terrace Sign Battle Reaches New Heights

After the developer of the 1.2 acre East Blithedale Ave. lot erected a fence to cover up signs protesting the project, local opponents strike back, raising the height of the anti-development signs.

For both developer Phil Richardson and the of his proposed at the base of Kite Hill, the stakes are high.

They got a bit higher this week when those opponents raised the height of the that have overshadowed the debate about the project itself in recent weeks. 

The fate of the , located at 575 East Blithedale Ave. at Camino Alto, may not become apparent until this fall, but strong local opposition, which involves six local neighborhood associations, continues to ensure that signs protesting the development remain visible, despite by erecting a fence on the Blithedale lot. 

, which read “20 Houses Here = Daily Gridlock” and “Help Save Kite Hill,” are posted on the property of Stephen Gregoire, whose home stands next to the property at the base of Kite Hill near Camino Alto on which Richardson has proposed to build 20 homes arranged along three parallel rows up the hillside. Members of the "Friends of Kite Hill" organization raised the signs higher to avoid being blocked by Richardson's fences along the edge of Gregoire's property and to make them clearly visible to East Blithedale drivers.

Richardson, who believes the signs may not be legal, originally decided to build the fence because he was "tired of seeing them." His project hit a delay as opposition rose, so he decided to do something about the signs. He said he didn't have much of a reaction to opponents' decision to move the signs up.

"I just put up the fence - that's it," he said.

Richard DiMaio, a board member of the Freeman Park Neighborhood Association, confirmed that the signs were repositioned by "The Friends of Kite Hill." He said the group represents more than 1,200 Mill Valley households, the Friends of Mill Valley organization and 1,500 people who have signed a petition to save Kite Hill.

"As the signs were being repositioned, many people gave the thumbs up and honked supportively," said DiMaio. "Some people stopped to chat, and some even offered to help. It was an outpouring of support."

John Burke August 08, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Why don't the apparently thousands of people in an uproar over this situation band together and put their money where their mouths are and buy the land from Richardson? That way everybody would be happy?
Scott August 08, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Frankly the protestors are very late in their actions. They should have engaged and protested long ago, before 2003, when the Housing Element was adopted. In it the plan clearly calls for 20 units at that site (see page 53 of http://www.cityofmillvalley.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=1207). Yes general plans/housing elements are often ambiguous 'objectives' and 'nice to haves' that allow for people to interpret them for their own self interest, but in this case, it is very clearly spells out "20 units." If they had issues with it then they should have raised their voices. Doing so now after the developer has bought the property, spent the money on architects and lawyers and come to the city with exactly what the city planned for is quite unseemly. They really should not be blaming him for doing what the city advertised it wanted to do. And for the city now to change its mind seems like it would be opening itself up to costly litigation it will likely lose.
Rico August 08, 2012 at 04:58 PM
The people of Mill Valley have bought large areas to be protected from development like Warner Ridge. And Zambrano donated the land known as horse hill in exchange for building his large concrete compound up on Throckmorton Ridge. Personally, I don't think the public would be very interested in buying that property that Richardson owns on E. Blithedale. Richardson would probably want to much for it and it is not that important as open space. It would be better to sit vacant, like it has been for the last 200 years after the local indians were run off of it.
Frank O'Shea August 08, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Save Kite Hill?!?! There’s not much of it left. Where were these protesters when the Kite Hill Lane and upper Alta Vista developments went in during the 90’s and 00’s. Some of these houses consist of well over 5,000 square feet while a proposed Blithedale Terrace home is as little as 1130 square feet. It seems that living in “earthy” Mill Valley, residents would want to support smart growth housing like Blithedale Terrace instead of the surrounding McMansions.
kbf August 08, 2012 at 07:21 PM
Actually, there was little, if any, public notice of the purported designation of this site at the time, and when the community first became aware of the proposed project when it was noticed in 2004, over 200 Mill Valley citizens showed up at the initial hearing in unanimous opposition. All subsequent hearings have likewise been well attended by opponents to the project. The developer has been well aware of the opposition right from the start, there is no surprise here, and certainly nothing "late" about the actions of the opponents. No one is "blaming" the developer, just differing with his proposal. Finally, informed legal experts believe that the developer has no sound causes for action.
Rico August 08, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Frank, you are right. I worked on a house above kite hill that was 8,000 square feet on a parcel that is 7 acres.. But the huge difference is, this was a house, not a bunch of condos. And it is tucked up in a place where not many people can see it. That is wealthy new lower Mill Valley, and nobody protested when the area was built out because they could not see it up close. I never considered building condos smart growth at all, just high density growth that puts more money in the pocket of developers per acre developed.
John Parulis August 09, 2012 at 01:00 AM
Correct Frank. Richardson has a decent affordable housing element in this one and the project's footprint is miniscule in comparison to the few giant single family mansions with helipads located just north of Richardson on the top of the hill. Where were the protestors for that?
kbf August 09, 2012 at 01:15 AM
I presume Mr. Parulis' comment is in jest. But just in case there are some who don't get the joke, the developer's plans call for only two lower income units, and two moderate income units--the other 16 are whatever the market will bear, say $1MM+? There are no helipads north of the property on top of the hill, never have been, never will be.
Lisa K August 09, 2012 at 01:59 AM
I find it laughable that the opposition is using "gridlock" as a reason to usurp a property owner's rights to develop. If that is an overwhelming reason to deny the construction, then I suggest half the homes/condos in Mill Valley be demolished to return the town to "livable" standards or people shed a good percentage of the cars which make so many streets impassable.
Rico August 09, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Lisa K, There is not a giant amount of condo-homes in Mill Valley, and all of them are down in the flats where the streets are easily passable. The majority of housing in Mill Valley is single family detached houses, not condos and town homes . There are no streets that are impassible anywhere in Mill Valley, so I suspect that you don't live here. For you to suggest that half of the condo-homes in Mill Valley be demolished to make the flat lands "livable" is laughable.
Nimby Valley August 09, 2012 at 04:20 AM
Stephen Gregoire's property is a dump. A nasty old 70's house with a cracked driveway, overgrown landscaping and now a non compliant sign marring the view of thousands of commuters. Who is going to enforce the sign ordinance? Can you just put up any protest sign on your property? He should change it to "Please put some tax generating development on this blighted sliver of a hillside. Thank you everyone for increasing my property value"
RD August 09, 2012 at 05:53 AM
The Stakes are high - the developer will come and go, but we will stay here in MV and live with he consequences for decades to come, which is why we care. 80 feet above street level, at the busiest intersection in Mill Valley is madness.
RD August 09, 2012 at 05:56 AM
You seem angry, whoa. The name of the town is Mill Valley. People are not opposed to reasonable development, just over development.
John August 09, 2012 at 07:16 AM
Hi John I actually made him a verbal offer, and he told me he wanted $5,000,000. He paid $1,500,000 less than 10 years ago. So a purchase is not realistic until he lowers his expectations.
John August 09, 2012 at 07:26 AM
Hi Scott Actually, if you read your link it says clearly "Potential Units" on page 53. That's the maximum that the zoning change requested by the developer would yield. However, the potential must be evaluated for safety, for impacts (both environmental and aesthetic, according to state law), and the project fails to meet the standards required for that intense a development. The EIR for the project clearly states in several sections that the access, consisting of a single driveway for both ingress and egress at the busiest intersection in Southern Marin, is inadequate, since it would operate at a Level of Service (rating for traffic) F, which is unacceptable by any standard.
John August 09, 2012 at 07:30 AM
Hi Frank Actually, Kite Hill was originally planned to have more than 100 housing units, and massive opposition from neighborhood associations and the general citizenry succeeded in reducing that number down considerably. Many of the project's opponents, myself included, applauded Mike House's 21 unit project at 505 Miller, and if this developer would just move his project to a more appropriate site, he might get neighborhood support, as did Mr House.
John August 09, 2012 at 07:35 AM
Actually, yes, we Americans have a little thing called the Constitution, the First Amendment of which protects such things as protest speech, even if the speech is on a sign.
Gorn August 09, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Development = Graffiti This area has been raped enough
Citizen August 09, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Of course this has nothing to do with the future property of the opposition homeowners should the project go through.
Citizen August 09, 2012 at 04:44 PM
I meant future property values.
Lisa K August 09, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Homes and condos and town homes and apartments and whatever else...I grew up in Mill Valley and am a Tam High grad and I find the streets extremely cluttered with multiple cars where once people owned only what fit in their driveways. The areas behind Miller Ave., for example, are constipated with cars. I'm sorry you don't recognize sarcasm when it's written.
Anne Tique August 09, 2012 at 05:58 PM
It seems to me that a new traffic study would be warranted if the last one was from nearly a decade ago.
Rico August 09, 2012 at 09:00 PM
Great idea Anne ! And hire me to do the job. For $60,000 (a special M.V. discount) I will spend 40 hours doing traffic counts and have my help do the time and delay studies as a bonus. It would be a lot cheaper than hiring a firm from out of M.V., and would save us from paying their commuting time. Those out of area consultants probably charge $200 per hour for freeway travel time EACH WAY !
RD August 10, 2012 at 01:10 AM
RD 6:09 pm on Thursday, August 9, 2012 There is a great deal to learn here: www.facebook.com/SaveKiteHil (no Facebook acct. needed) or google: Save Kite HIll.
kbf August 10, 2012 at 02:47 AM
Zillow currently has the parcel valued at $1.7 MM.
Magoo August 10, 2012 at 03:31 PM
Maybe the aggregate groups should have outbid the developer 10 years ago for a cheap 1.1 million
RD August 11, 2012 at 05:22 PM
That would have been great! But you can make an impact, now: https://www.wepay.com/donations/friends-of-kite-hill
kbf August 13, 2012 at 05:12 AM
Developer Phil Richardson continues his campaign of misinformation regarding his proposed 20 unit project rising the equivalent of 8 stories above street level, on the 1.2 acre site that is adjacent to the most congested intersection (E. Blithedale/Camino Alto) in Mill Valley. Richardson falsely claims that opposition to his project is driven by just a handful of immediate neighbors. In fact, in a show of unprecedented unity in recent Mill Valley history, five neighborhood associations, together with the citywide Friends of Mill Valley citizens’ organization, sent a letter to the Planning Commission opposing the project. Two other concerned neighborhood groups have subsequently joined the Friends of Kite Hill. Opposition to the project is based on well founded concerns regarding traffic congestion and safety, environmental compliance, code compliance, and General Plan inconsistency. The Friends have also circulated a petition opposing the project on these grounds which has garnered more than 1,100 signatures , and more people are steadily joining citizen efforts to encourage the City to consider a substantially smaller project alternative.
kbf August 13, 2012 at 05:14 AM
In a CBS local news segment, Richardson falsely claimed that he "finally got permission to build" and that he "had documents from the City that say that I'm to build 20 units of housing on that property." In fact, the site is zoned for a commercial property, and requires a General Plan Amendment to even be able to allow housing on the site. Not only is this project in conflict with Mill Valley’s General Plan in several ways, it has not yet been issued any of the required City permits and the Environmental Impact Report for the project has not been certified. Approval of the EIR must precede any project approval. The City has every right to consider a much smaller project. Such a project would lead to far fewer traffic impacts, less aesthetic impacts and would be consistent with the General Plan and City Code. The project must also pass the scrutiny of Design Review before proceeding. Thus, it is entirely premature to make any claim that there is permission to build, there is not. The Friends’ position is simple. We do not oppose housing on the site, we simply believe, and the greater community overwhelmingly agrees, that 20 houses are far too many for the small site and the location. The project has insufficient access. The entryway to the project has been determined to operate at Level of Service F and the project will add to the number of cars illegally using the "keep clear" zone which will increase the already heavy traffic congestion and lead to safety impacts.
kbf August 13, 2012 at 05:15 AM
The Friends of Kite Hill encourage all Mill Valley citizens to visit our website: http://www.facebook.com/SaveKiteHill to learn about the project and the issues it poses not just for nearby neighborhoods but for the City of Mill Valley overall, to sign the petition, and to contribute toward the expenses incurred retaining expert legal, environmental and traffic advisors.

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