Three months ago, the proposed 20-unit Blithedale Terrace residential development appeared to be nearing its proverbial day in court.
Now it seems that day might not come until the fall. But developer Phil Richardson and his vocal opponents are filling the dog days of summer with a showdown over a pair of signs critics posted in March to spread their anti-Blithedale Terrace message.
The signs (at right), which say “20 Houses Here = Daily Gridlock” and “Help Save Kite Hill,” are posted 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 said he expects the development to house around 45 people.
As and his project hit a delay due to the city’s requirement for more documents before proceeding, Richardson decided to do something about the signs. He’s erecting a fence along his property line that will block the current location of the signs.
“I just got tired of seeing the signs,” Richardson said. “Nobody else was going to do anything about it.”
Richardson said he doesn’t believe the signs are legal under the city’s sign ordinance (attached at right). But Mill Valley Planning Director Mike Moore said he’s discussed the two existing anti-Blithedale Terrace signs with City Attorney Greg Stepanicich and determined that they are “political” signs and are not directly subject to the city’s sign regulations.
“We do not intend to ask the property owner to remove the signs, provided they don’t increase in size, location or number beyond where they are now,” Moore said.
Richard DiMaio, a board member of the Freeman Park Neighborhood Association, called Richardson's move “childish.”
He said the opposition to Blithedale Terrace, which involves six neighborhood associations, including that of Tamalpais Ave. residents across town, is growing. Opponents have tallied more than 1,000 signatures on a “Friends of Kite Hill” anti-Blithedale Terrace petition, both online and offline, DiMaio said. They said they've raised more than $8,000 to fight the project and have already hired a land use attorney, Rachel Mansfield-Howlett, and are working with a pair of consultants.
Richardson said he's made attempts to reach out to opponents and neighbors, including an last month, largely to no avail.
But while the two sides square off over signs, they may have to wait a bit for the beginning of the main event, which is when the Planning Commission will recommend to the City Council whether or not they should certify the project’s final Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
At its last meeting on the project at the end of April, the 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.
“Given where we are on the calendar, we probably won’t be scheduling anything until the fall because of other pending applications and vacation schedules,” Moore said.