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With Blithedale Terrace Project on Pause, Sides Spar Over Signs

As opposition mounts, developer builds a fence on his 1.2-acre East Blithedale Ave. property to block signs on an adjacent property.

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.

kbf July 25, 2012 at 05:50 PM
The developer is asking $5.0 million or more for a property that Zillow says is worth $1.7 million. So good luck with that.
Patrick Daniels July 25, 2012 at 06:29 PM
The owner will not want this to go to court because of a Supreme Court ruling on Woodenville Washington development case that raised the same issue, The Developer lost. Community trumps developers....
barbara jacobs July 25, 2012 at 06:40 PM
How much did he pay for this property?
Alan Abrams July 25, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Richardson paid $1.5M and has probably another $.5M in it with architect fees + the EIR, etc. If he would sell for $2M, this town (the people) could buy it and make it a park or just leave it natural. But no, he wants to make a ton of cash. If he donated the land, we would call it Richardson Park. Right now though, it's Blithedale Blight.
Bud Wiesser July 25, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Where will all the local teens go to smoke weed?! (Yes a few go up there now.)
Bud Wiesser July 25, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Whats the update on the KFC-Miller Ave monstrosity/"development"?
A concerned Mill Valley Citizen July 25, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Great way to show that "you're reaching out to opponents and neighbors" there Phil. Your words and actions betray you. Its clear you rather block the community out instead of work with them. The community and neighbors have spoken. The overwhelming response is very simple - we don't want 20 homes on Kite Hill! Only a stubborn amateur investor would continue to promote this doomed and ill fated development attempt. The community has given you several opportunities to present something less dense. We've even offered to buy the property for more than you paid for it. Its foolish not to consider these options. Building a fence is just a punitive juvenile response to not getting what you want. You're embarrassing yourself. This is an arrogant and juvenile public temper tantrum. Maybe you need a "time out" to rethink your actions Phil?
Libtard Valley July 25, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Good luck with your grassroots efforts to thwart development you NIMBYs. This is not a space for a park. It is a coveted, properly zoned parcel that the developer has every right to build on. Working families are a better alternative to another retail center with even more trips through your intersection. Instead of fighting progress, why don't you focus on opening up Hamilton drive to reduce the congestion on Blithedale or widening Blithedale to accommodate two lanes at Lomita. You might block his fence, but you can't block bushes/trees or bamboo that could do the samething.
Terry July 25, 2012 at 09:21 PM
When you buy, or build, next door to a vacant lot, surely you must know that it will be developed one day. When you move into a neighborhood with vacant lots, surely you must be aware that one day, those lots will be developed. This is another prime example of Mill Valley NIMBYism.
A concerned Mill Valley Citizen July 25, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Yes, it's currently properly zoned as office/retail. I can assure you he would have little opposition if he proposed an office building similar to the existing one next to the property. The property owner doesn't have a right to build 20 new homes on this lot as it would need to be rezoned. That's a decision for the community to decide, not the property owner. All of us are also keenly aware of the traffic flow issues in MV. No need to remind us to focus on that. The term fighting progress is a cop out. Progress in and of itself is not a done deal. We as citizens have right and obligation to determine the future of our town.
RD July 25, 2012 at 11:20 PM
It zones for a commercial bldg not 20 townhouses rising 80 feet into the sky at the worst intersection in MV. Congestion bottlenecks at E. Blithedale which is one lane ea. way. Nice name, shows you care about the town.
RD July 25, 2012 at 11:23 PM
Developed according to 1) zoning commercial not residential, 2) not 80 feet into the sky it's not because you own the land that you can build a 35 story high-rise 3) That you not consider community standards. Terry please reconsider your points based on the facts. Lastly, what about traffic coming to a bottle neck and no exit from property onto E. Blithedale heading out of town....and so many other issues. Best.
Terry July 26, 2012 at 12:05 AM
In my comments, I mentioned nothing about residential vs. commercial. If you believe that a commercial project there is going to slide right through, you may be in for a big surprise. (BTW, I am neither for nor against this project.)
RD July 26, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Thanks Terry, I stand corrected. I see your point now. But it really is a case of traffic and 80 feet high - not nimbyism, sincerely. Best.
Sharon Salisbury July 26, 2012 at 12:30 AM
I would like to thank Mr. Richardson for giving us a flat surface to which we can now post, write, draw our adamant objections to his selfish, insane development. What a pathetic little man. Sharon Salisbury
Cathy Rosekrans July 26, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Just noting that it will be more than 10 to 15 cars is the DEVELOPER'S projection is 45 additional people. (Some might project more people than that). AND the entrance/exit from the project is awkward/problematic/dangerous, which means that a driver coming from/to that project will cause more "congestion" than someone going from/to downtown. I just don't see how people safely get in and out of this project. To paraphrase a traffic engineer acquaintance: "Traffic engineering is the only branch of engineering where human behavior can frustrate best laid plans". Read the book "TRAFFIC" to learn more.
Cathy Rosekrans July 26, 2012 at 01:29 AM
My dream would be an off road bus shelter at this location. It would lessen congestion coming into Mill Valley. Maybe add a few lower income units or commuter parking to the bus shelter area. (After all, Manzanita will be under water more and more as time goes by). This could be Community/City/Marin Transit funded, though a $5 Million price tag probably won't let it happen. Hopefully, that $5 M figure is rumor - hopefully.
kbf July 26, 2012 at 03:10 AM
This is not a fence!!! It is a screen, a curtain, a visual barrier with the express and only purpose of blocking the signs, of suppressing what the City has determined is political expression. Moreover, the screen constitutes a safety hazard for the neighbor on whose property the signs are located because it makes it impossible for him to see vehicles or pedestrians proceeding west on East Blithedale when backing his car out of his driveway.
Geoff Flint July 26, 2012 at 03:44 AM
I see that Mr. Richardson is now engaged in childish acts. He is doing a fantastic job of ticking off the whole community. What is he going to do next - paint the hillside orange?
phil sheridan July 26, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Mr. Slick, I don't quite understand the logic of your 3rd point: "10-15 more cars won't make a difference because there's already gridlock". That's like saying (of the Holocaust) "gassing a few more jews won't matter, we've gassed so many already". Is that what you mean? phil sheridan
Elaine gentile July 26, 2012 at 06:26 PM
......I an against this terrible plan....20 new homes means around 40 more cars right there to add to the already congested intersection. I think we need to consider our evacuation plans out of Mill Valley also in case of an emergency. This building project is a terrible idea which needs to be reduced in quantity.
Cathy Rosekrans July 26, 2012 at 11:11 PM
If there are 40 more cars, that doesn't mean that there are only 40 times a "project vehicle" would be on the road. A City consultant has estimated 11 TRIPS (once out, once back) per household per day in Mill Valley, which would make this more like 440 more vehicles on East Blithedale throughout the day, most going through the tricky Blithedale/Camino Alto intersection. I agree with your comment --- I think people often dismiss "40 cars" as less substantial than it is because they fail to look at the number of trips taken by each car in a day.
Sharon Salisbury July 26, 2012 at 11:57 PM
Regarding the car problem...40 cars is bad enough but usually people have children either living with them or visiting, friends etc. who visit, adding even more cars. I have lived here for over 30 years and never have I seen the congestion at that intersection as bad as it is now. On many occasions, It has taken me 45 minutes or more just to reach the freeway and I have watched as ER vehicles try in vain to get through the gridlock. As people have noted, there are just 2 ways in and 2 ways out of MV and good luck getting out in an emergency. Why make an already untenable situation even worse? I am sick of being accused of NIMBYism. Only 2 units are going to be so-called "low-income" units, so I don't think there are sufficent poor people for all of us libtard elitists to be afraid of. No, I don't want the traffic whether it comes in the form of a Bentley or a 1966 VW bus. As for widening E. Blithedale with all the houses and business on it...pray tell how would that look?
Rico July 27, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Hi Sharon, I don't know where you live in Mill Valley, but if you spend up to 45 minutes to get to the freeway, you are wasting your time. You should buy a map and learn alternate routes to get around. By the way, I also oppose that Blithedale Terrace project. Using ersatz statistics doesn't help much when fighting things, and actually takes away from the argument. It reminds me of the stop smart meter activist sites that claim the wireless SmartMeters use powerful microwave radar beams to track residents like ships on the ocean and enemy aircraft in the sky. What I mean is, nobody would spend 45 minutes from any location in Mill Valley to get to the freeway. I live way up in the hills, about 3 miles away from the freeway, and it only takes me about 18 minutes to get to the freeway. And most of that time is consumed by driving on narrow one lane roads before I get to town.
Sharon Salisbury July 27, 2012 at 03:51 AM
Hi Ricardo, Please note I didn't say it takes me 45 minutes every time...I said many times. And it has. I had a job in Tiburon and was almost fired for being late on several occasions because my boss couldn't believe it would take me an hour(as it did on at least 4 days) to get there. That is until he was delivering something in MV and then he believed. And, as I said I have lived here for over 30 years...37 to be exact and I know all the shortcuts. If 101 is blocked, the only alternative is over the old road which then turns into a parking lot. Ersatz statistics? Are you referring to my statement that many times it has taken me....? How is that a statistic, let alone, heaven forbid, an ersatz one? Don't know much about the smart meter activists but everyone should have a right to their opinion. Not sure why you are comparing me to them either. And if it only takes you 18 minutes every day to reach the freeway...you either have a really fast car or bike or you are very lucky. Oh and BTW, I don't think incivility helps much either. Thanks, Sharon
Sharon Salisbury July 27, 2012 at 03:55 AM
Hi Ricardo, Forgot to report that I live up in Blithedale Canyon. Hope that is o.k with you. Shouldn't we be on the same side? Thanks, Sharon
Y R July 30, 2012 at 07:41 AM
Thanks, Mill Valley Patch, for keeping us up to date on the developments regarding the Blithedale Kite Hill matter. Let's work together fellow Mill Valley residents, to oppose this ill-conceived real estate development, and Mr. Richardson's attempt to silence public comment and sentiment!! SAVE KITE HILL!
Lia July 30, 2012 at 11:27 PM
Since the fence wasn't part of the original plans and it was put up because the developer was tired of the neighbor's signs, could it be considered a spite fence?
Sharon Salisbury July 30, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Can't we just raise the signs???
kbf July 31, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Of course, that's what it is. “I just got tired of seeing the signs,” Richardson said.

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