Council Upholds Redevelopment Plans for Long-Vacant Space Above Tyler Florence Shop

The City Council denied an appeal from Historical Society board member Barbara Ford that focused on preserving the historic windows of the O’Shaughnessy Building, calling it "a wonderful project" that provides much-needed housing for the city.

The redevlopment of the second floor of 65 Throckmorton Ave, which has sat vacant for 56 years, will move foward after the City Council denied an appeal from Barbara Ford, a longtime member of the Mill Valley Historical Society's board.

Ford said that while she supports the Aloha Lofts proposal to redevelop the second floor with four small residential units, plans to increase the number of windows along Throckmorton would take away from the building’s historical aesthetic.

“I’d like the windows to be restored and preserved,” she said during the Nov. 19 City Council meeting. “There must be a way of saving those.”

Built by Michael O’Shaughnessy, who owned it until he died in 1934, the structure is widely known as the O’Shaughnessy Building. The upstairs space was condemned in 1956 after serving as a lodging house during World War II for employees of the Sausalito Shipyards and the Red Cross, operating under the name the Aloha Lido Hotel. For 56 years, the 4,000-square-foot space above the Tyler Florence Shop and Vintage Wine & Spirits has sat vacant.

City councilmembers expressed their eagerness to see the space become a functioning part of Mill Valley once again, while also providing much needed housing in the city. The four rental units would be between 758 - 900-square-feet and moderately priced, although the owners haven’t decided yet if one of the units would be designated as affordable housing or if they would pay a fee in-lieu of meeting the requirement.

The Planning Commission and City Council approved the project after a historical preservation consultant concluded that significant altercations over the years “affected the historic integrity to the point that it cannot be considered an historic resource.”

In particular, the review pointed to work that was done to an exterior corner in 1958, which changed the angle of the building and greatly altered its original appearance.

Ford, however, said the corner work was performed years before, and submitted photographs from 1938 and 1940 “that show it had already been straightened out by that time.”

The building was also said to have been built in 1908, but Ford provided another photograph that shows it standing in 1897.  The incorrect dates were a result of the consultant using data from a previous report, where the mistakes were originally made, she said.

“Because of these errors, I don’t think he has an expert opinion because he wasn’t taking into consideration these dates,” Ford said.

However, Mayor Garry Lion said they were essentially close enough “as long as it's in the right kind of decade in terms of historical significance.”

The photos also depicted major differences between the historic windows, and the ones there now - which indicates the entire front was rebuilt, said Evan Cross, the project’s architect and a tenant in the building.

“If you look at it today, the windows are in different places,” Cross said. “How did they get more space between the windows than they had earlier? It’s because they’re new windows, and they’re smaller, which is the problem.”

Historical preservation aside, the current double hung windows “just don’t cut it in this day and age,” Cross said.  They don’t let in a lot of light or ventilation, they’re not energy efficient, access during a fire can be hazardous and they would have to be updated anyway to meet current building codes, he said.

Lee Lum L.P., which has owned the building for nearly 20 years as well as the large parking lot behind it, garnered approval for the same project in 2004, but the plans stalled for economic reasons, Cross said.

“Everything was vetted at that point,” Cross said. “And then the economy kicked in.”

Now, that same project is on the table. Councilmember Stephanie Moulton-Peters suggested taking videos of the inside of the building to preserve some of the historical elements, including the windows, in a way that's similar to the documentary about John Goddard’s legendary Village Music, which premiered at the 35th Mill Valley Film Festival.

Councilmembers agreed the project was positive for Mill Valley, and unanimously upheld their decision to approve it. Construction will likely begin in the summer of 2013 and last for between 6-8 months.

“I’m really excited about bringing this top floor up to speed,” said Councilor Shawn Marshall. “This is exactly the kind of project we hope to see more of on Miller Ave."

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