When I purchased the Blithedale Terrace property in 2004, I met with the city of Mill Valley's Planning Director to discuss what the community wanted there. She made it clear that a new Housing Element of the General Plan had just been adopted and it called for 20 units of housing ─ four of which were to be "affordable.” As a result of that meeting, we then spent 18 months designing the project utilizing two different architects.
The result is Blithedale Terrace ─ a terraced plan of 20 single-family, two- and three-bedroom townhomes varying in style from 1,100 to 2,000 square feet. The , located at 575 East Blithedale Ave. at Camino Alto, represents the core principles of smart growth: in-fill development, designed for efficiency, green and located within walking distance to virtually all everyday needs, including shopping (, ), restaurants, schools (, and ); the and the . A public transit stop is at the property and it is only three blocks to Highway 101. All units will have views, two-car garages, two decks and a patio and there will be a park.
Opposition to the project came immediately in the form of a letter dated August 2004 to the Mill Valley Planning Commission from my uphill neighbors, which included the following: "...we are prepared to accept residential development of Mr. Richardson's lot as long as it is done in a manner as not to devalue our properties and wreak more havoc with the already difficult traffic congestion on East Blithedale."
As to the notion of property devaluation, Mill Valley is an egalitarian community with all sizes, styles, and ages of housing intermixed. In fact, my neighbors' gated one-to four-acre estates already abut mid-century housing and commercial properties. It’s safe to say that Blithedale Terrace will not impact their multi-million dollar property values.
As to the traffic issue, the city suggested that I pay for an to provide the community with information in evaluating the project. I agreed, and that work, done entirely by the city's consultant, commenced in 2006 and . It states that there are no significant environmental issues, including traffic. This project's only effect on the East Blithedale/Camino Alto intersection is an average one-tenth of a second increase in delay during the peak hours.
In talking to neighbors, I understand that the , but it has been for years. People are frustrated that nothing has been done to mediate it, but this project does not change the existing situation in any noticeable way.
As I have waited for the standard planning process to begin, I have tried to remain silent. But I have been increasingly concerned about the campaign put on by some individuals in opposition. Deliberately inflammatory statements are being made, such as that the project will create traffic “gridlock,” that the developer is from "out of town," and that the opponents seek to “Save Kite Hill”:
- Traffic was addressed above. Some of my opponents simply will not accept the facts from independent traffic experts.
- Calling me an “out of town developer” because I reside in Tiburon is an interesting negative. I moved to Mill Valley in 1967 and lived here for seven years. I am on the board of the Rotary Club of Mill Valley, a member of the and the Mill Valley Affordable Housing Committee, and regularly participate in land use and transportation planning programs held by the city. We also have sponsored a film at the Mill Valley Film Festival and donated one-quarter of the funding to rehabilitate Freeman Park.
- , my property is the last vacant lot on East Blithedale. In fact, it’s the last vacant buildable lot of any size in Mill Valley. And while my property is situated right on East Blithedale, my opponents actually own and live on Kite Hill. They have already “saved” it for themselves.
Aside from what has been clearly stated in the General Plan, it appears that the community needs to do some soul searching. Is this a town where only the wealthy can move in by building large houses on steep lots in our canyons? Why can't the ordinary citizen have an opportunity to live in a 21st Century home in Mill Valley, one that is within walking distance to everything? has had several speakers say that projects similar to Blithedale Terrace are the future of housing in this country, and if you know any Gen X'ers or Y'ers, you understand why.
Mill Valley has a great variety of housing ─ teens and twenties Victorians and craftsman, plenty of mid-century merchant builder housing, and lately, large custom homes squeezed into the remaining space. It would be nice for the city to have one project that represents today’s compact building design rather than conventional, land consumptive development. In the '70's and '80's, multifamily projects were built which resulted in 28 percent of our population living in compact housing.
I’m looking forward to the opportunity of presenting my project to the citizenry in the normal fashion, having discussion and distributing information, and letting our leaders make the proper decision for the city.
It also would be rewarding if we could build something so that our children might have a chance to live in a newly built compact home in Mill Valley.
Lastly, I’ve included an aerial of our neighborhood with the Blithedale Terrace project superimposed on it. Twenty families will be able to live on the same space as eight in mid-century houses and one or less in 1980's estates. This is 21st century sustainability.
For information on the project, please go to www.blithedaleterrace.com