The Mill Valley Planning Commission made uncharacteristically quick work of a study session on the proposed 20-unit Blithedale Terrace residential project Monday night.
Having received a sharply worded letter from project developer Phil Richardson’s attorney, as well as a project alternatives report that didn’t appear to meet their collective expectations, the commission concluded the session in less than an hour. Next up is a hearing (date TBA) in which the commission will recommend to the City Council to either accept or reject a final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project.
“I get it – I now understand that my effort several weeks ago to move the ball forward on alternatives isn’t going to go anywhere,” said David Rand, the commission’s chair, about the report. “I give up and I’m ready to move on with an evaluation of this project. No good deed or effort goes unpunished.”
A letter (attached at right) from Richardson’s attorney Riley Hurd, delivered to commissioners at the outset of the meeting, seemed to raise the stakes. In it, Hurd recounts the long history of Richardson’s project on 1.2 acres of land he bought in July 2004. Hurd focused primarily on the city’s review of the project’s environmental impacts.
Noting that nearly six years passed between a June 2006 EIR scoping session and the , Hurd concluded that Richardson has been “significantly damaged” by “the city’s failure to process the EIR in a timely fashion."
“If the city does not promptly move the EIR forward, Mr. Richardson will have no choice but to seek legal recourse,” Hurd wrote.
The commission called for the study session at its , with Rand saying his intent was to make sure that a “reasonable range of alternatives” were included in the EIR, as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Because the EIR had included only a “no project” alternative and one that featured a large office building, Rand said the EIR hadn’t met that requirement.
The latest report (attached at right) included alternatives that reduced the number of units in the project but not the size of the development footprint. Those alternatives didn’t require additional analysis, the commission concluded.
“None of these alternatives to me resolve anything,” Commissioner Barbara Chambers said. “My issues are more on the merits of the projects rather than if these alternatives change that status.”
Faced with a set of alternatives that didn’t meet the commission’s expectations, Rand asked Richardson what role he played in the consultants’ report. Richardson is paying for the consultant but the firm is under the direction of city staff.
“Absolutely none,” Richardson responded.
“I hear the applicant’s attorney essentially threatening you with various laws, but you don’t need to be intimidated,” chimed in John Palmer, vice president of the Scott Valley Homeowners ‘ Association and a staunch opponent of the project.
“I can assure you that the commission is not intimidated,” Rand replied.
With the commission’s consensus that further environmental review of those alternatives would simply determine that they would have less environmental impact that the proposed 20-unit project, the commission decided to simply move the process forward.
Once the EIR process concludes, the commission and the council will decide on the merits of the project and give it an up or down vote.
The project calls for 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 said he expects the development to house around 45 people.
The project is the subject of for a variety of reasons, including its possible impact on traffic and safety in the area. The Blithedale Terrace property was included in the city’s 2003 Housing Element update as a place for a 20-unit residential development as part of the city’s efforts to meet housing allocation requirements from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).