Would You Support 41 New Housing Units Above Safeway on Camino Alto?

In advance of Dec. 5 meeting on city's Draft Housing Element as part of General Plan update, report identifies parcels where housing could be built, the biggest of which is above popular grocery store across from Tam High.

In the ongoing debate over how much new housing the city of Mill Valley can accommodate, many local leaders and residents have asked a simple question: Where could more housing even fit in town?

As City Hall continues its ongoing MV2040 General Plan update, a report released last month in advance of an important Dec. 5 meeting on the city's Draft Housing Element seeks to answer that question. That report, "Residential Capacity Analysis" (attached at right), was drafted by the Metropolitan Planning Group to identify potential places for additional housing to be built.

It identified that the city has a capacity for 393 additional housing units.

The city's goal is to create a Housing Element, part of the larger General Plan update, that identifies the sites that could accommodate enough new housing for the city to achieve its Regional Housing Needs Allocation for the period of 2014-2022. That allocation is doled out by the Association of Bay Area Governments, the regional agency charged with allocating the state housing mandates to counties, towns and cities.

In a draft report earlier this year, the agency allocated 292 new households to Mill Valley for the period of 2009-2014, and 129 for the period 2014-2022 (report attached at right). The undeveloped sites identified for the first period can carry over to the second period, according to Mill Valley Planning and Building Director Mike Moore.

Through the state-mandated Sustainable Communities Strategy, which stretches through 2040, an earlier ABAG report allocated 750 new households to Mill Valley, and that was reduced to 450 in July

City officials have continued to lobby ABAG to lower those numbers even more. 

In identifying possible sites to accommodate new housing, consultants Geoff Bradley and Karen Hong stated numerous times in the report that although parcels are being identified, "No development projects are being proposed. This list does not imply that any of these sites would be developed in the future, or that any sites or units are ‘preapproved’ for development. All future projects must go through planning and environmental review processes as established by the city and the state."

The report breaks down potential new housing sites into two categories:

  1. Residential parcels where new housing could be built.
  2. Commercially zoned parcels where residential units are allowed.

In the first category, the report identified 96 parcels as "good candidates for infill residential development," enough to accommodate 113 new residential units under existing zoning regulations. Nearly all of those parcels could accommodate one housing unit, according to the report.

One of the parcels, 548 Miller Ave., is located behind the Mill Valley Pet Clinic near Tam High and is zoned for multi-family residential development. It could accommodate 16 residential units, the report states.

The second category includes 45 parcels of potential mixed-use development that could accommodate 280 new residential units under existing zoning regulations. "Some sites could potentially support the addition of new residences above existing buildings, or the reconfiguration of parking to allow for residential development, or a complete redevelopment of the site," the report states.

The bulk of the possible housing on commercial parcels comes in the form of mixed-use projects. For examples, the report identifies the potential to add housing on top of retail buildings like the Cabana Home at 238 East Blithedale Ave. (9 units), the building housing the Urban Farmer Store at 653 East Blithedale (11) and the Citibank building (9) on Throckmorton Avenue.

But the biggest potential home to new housing, according to the report, is the Safeway-owned 1 Camino Alto property, where 41 units of housing could go in a mixed-use project that would resemble a smaller version of the controversial Millworks-Whole Foods Market project in Novato.

As Bradley and Hong make clear in their report, there are no impending development proposals at the identified sites.

But because the controversial Blithedale Terrace project site was identified for 20 possible housing units in the city's 1989 update of Mill Valley's General Plan - and given developer Phil Richardson's reliance on that designation in crafting his much-debated project - it's clear that identifying these sites and attaching numbers of units to them is far from meaningless.

So what do you make of the "Residential Capacity Analysis" report? Would you support 41 units of housing above Safeway? What potential sites on the list stand out to you as either very good or very bad ideas?

Janis Bosenko November 28, 2012 at 03:09 PM
If the City and County could require property owners who seek to "remodel" by tearing down everything but one or two walls to build a Mega Mansion, to build devote some square footage to be a second, rental unit. Government would need to monitor to make sure the unit was rented at or below market rate. No one needs a 4000+ square foot residence. If people are allowed to overbuild, at least they can provide a rental unit to help meet housing quotas
John November 28, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Do you really want "government" to decide how large a house should be and to compel homeowners to build affordable housing on their single family lots? If a community wants to build affordable housing, which I support, the community should do what the city is doing, designate sites where such housing can reasonably be built, and not force the private sector to do it for them.
Sandy November 28, 2012 at 06:21 PM
I would have to imagine that the individuals in the agency identifying the city to have the capacity for 393 additional housing units, have not personally tried to enter or leave mill valley in the mornings, afternoons or early evenings. The traffic in and out of miller avenue past Tam high through Tam Valley and the traffic on East Blithedale also leading to and from the freeway these past couple years has already become so congested that many times, it just doesn't move. More households adding to the daily traffic backup in Mill Valley is a scary thought.
Rico November 28, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Some things that are not mentioned are the facts that this will increase traffic down in the commercial areas, which is already bad now. The concept of putting 41 units above Safeway would satisfy the need to build more apartments in Mill Valley, but where are the people going to come from to live in such a noisy location ? And parking, the Safeway lot is usually quite full, and traffic at the intersection is of high volume. I rarely shop at Safeway, and never go there during the lunch break at Tam, but if they ever do build above Safeway, I will simply avoid the area entirely. There are other routes to take to avoid time consuming- stressful traffic intersections. And about asking people to build more second units in residential areas, that will be a huge problem in Mill Valley. There are many old houses that do not have garages or off street parking, and many of the streets are only barely one lane. So, where will these new tenants park their rigs ? I know that the City of MV is starting to upgrade the sanitary sewer system, and the MMWD is upgrading the 50+ year old water mains, but where is the additional water for these new imported tenants going to come from ? What's next, a giant dehumidifier plant or desalting plant ? Right now all these housing unit proposals sound good to developers, but when the realities of this new building boom are analyzed, I think both the developers and the citizens will scrap the plans.
Cathy Rosekrans November 28, 2012 at 08:02 PM
I agree with Sandy. However, above Safeway seems better than most from a traffic perspective. I also agree with John - some seem to think "2nd units" are "harmless" because they aren't visible. But 20 2nd units would likely generate as much traffic as a 20 unit apartment complex. It also can create havoc for residents of adjoining lots in terms of light and privacy. Invisible to most; a real deprivation for a few. 2nd units should go through design review and other approval processes. If such processes might legitimately result in a denial of a 2nd unit, can 2nd units really be our "affordable housing" solution?
Linda Rames November 29, 2012 at 01:39 AM
41 housing units above Safeway would mean that I would no longer shop at Safeway, Vitamin Express, or get a coffee at Starbucks. The lack of parking would not make it worthwhile to use the shopping center. I don't think Safeway would be so stupid as to allow this kind of use for the above reason and because the center is essentially built on bay mud and is constantly shifting and settling which would make building housing above the store prohibitively expensive. I think the city council needs to stop pandering to ABAG and find out what the citizens of Mill Valley really want for their town. I seriously doubt high density housing would be acceptable to most property owners. Perhaps the city council should look at removing Mill Valley from ABAG because this organization is far more than the messenger. They are setting dangerous precedents for the entire bay area using faulty research. An example of this is the reduction in units which Mill Valley was able to achieve after proving that the arbitrary numbers from ABAG were ridiculous. Linda Rames
Dave LaDuke November 29, 2012 at 02:37 PM
Bob's right. We don't have the infrastructure - parking, traffic carrying capacity, schools, sewers - to build significant density in Mill Valley. Lower Miller Avenue is in a floodplain; we don't have the public safety or engineering resources to deal with it. The top-down plans advocating for density seem to assume that "if you build it" infrastructure will magically appear, but what really happens is that, to the financial benefit of a few developers, we degrade the quality of life for everyone else. I'm sure that the City feels that their plan is a pragmatic response to pressure from ABAG and Orwellian-sounding schemes like "Sustainable Communities Strategy". But pragmatism without foresight is dangerous. The Corte Madera City Council, who have shown foresight, has stood up against ABAG pressure. They probably seems crazy to our pragmatic, get-along go-along MV pols - and their efforts may fail. But to the next generation they may seem like they were the only sane actors on the public stage.
Bob Silvestri November 29, 2012 at 02:53 PM
The city’s historic tendency to view lower Miller Avenue as a “dumping ground” for hair-brained, high density development schemes has got to stop. Our neighborhoods have been fighting one stupid proposal after another for almost 20 years. Its very inequitable. If large parcels are the criteria for targeting a site for high density development, then why shouldn't every large (one acre of more) parcel in the canyons also be targeted for high density infill? There is no excess parking capacity at the Safeway center, as it is. And high density, multi-story development on this site (like the bankrupt Millworks project in Novato) would destroy the scale of the "Gateway" room envisioned in the Miller Streetscape Plan and violate all the tenets of the General Plan’s requirement to preserve Mill Valley’s small town character and quality of life. Enough already.
George Gordon November 29, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Son of MAPP lives. Folks, take a moment and look at the site map included in the study. It shows Tam High and its athletic fields as buildable sites, along with the church across the street from the Middle School. A further check of the PDF shows the entire Miller Ave corridor from Safeway to the La Goma/Miller intersection also as buildable sites. This is the same fight that we had in 2007 and 2009 elections. The consensus then was that Mill Valley did not want this type of city plan, then or in the future. Once again the villain ABAG (an association of Bay Area realtors and contractors) whose intent was and is to build out as much of each town that they can. Corte Madera and Fairfax have told them that they will not consider ABAG when they do their city planning for the future, it's time for Mill Valley to take the same position. That's what the two election were all about.
Elise Paisley November 29, 2012 at 09:07 PM
You are absolutely right. The traffic flow is a serious problem. You can keep throwing more units into the town, but the restrictions of flow and access could become even more problematic. There will be a complete gridlock if there is a back up on 101. The traffic around Camino Alto and E Blithedale is already serious.
Elise Paisley November 29, 2012 at 09:10 PM
How does the city get out of ABAG? Sounds like the way to go.
Bob Silvestri November 29, 2012 at 09:15 PM
"The Best Laid Plans" provides background on planning and housing issues and explores the facts and fallacies of our present approach to solving "the problem:" "The Best Laid Plans: Our Planning and Affordable Housing Challenges in Marin" is available in paperback, with a Foreword by Dick Spotswood. On Amazon: The book qualifies for their "4 or 3" promotional price and SuperSaver free shipping (with a minimum order): http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/182-1618641-7088467?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=the+best+laid+plans%2Cbob+silvestri
George Gordon November 29, 2012 at 09:27 PM
The City Council votes to not be held to ABAG's suggested housing unit numbers for Mill Valley. ABAG has no legal standing to enforce it's quota on any city, and to use any information or data that they generate only adds to our problems. We have no obligation to ABAG, or it's housing unit allocation; asking them to modify our allocation allotment make no sense since we do not have to follow any of their guidlines.
Rico November 30, 2012 at 02:39 AM
It sounds like ABAG knows more than most regular folks do. They want to try and cram as many apartments as they can before the real crash hits. Then what, we will be stuck with a bunch of empty shared wall, mixed use buildings that the developers went bankrupt on, and we the people will be asked to bail them out again. This time, it's going to be different, and ABAG knows it. The people will revolt (hopefully) before any more tacky housing units are built. Believe it or not, these proposed population expansion projects have already failed right here in M.V. for many reasons. It seems stupid that the ABAG mafia keeps proposing building more, without the consideration of the imported people who will have to live in cramped, noisy little boxes built in commercial areas with no privacy, no yards, air , noise and light pollution, strict by-laws, no parking, no freedom and no peace and quiet. What does ABAG think people are, GMO grain fed cows !
Beads of Marin December 01, 2012 at 04:34 AM
You can also support a local business by asking the book store to order it for you.
Bob Silvestri December 01, 2012 at 04:38 AM
I do. The book is available at the Depot Bookstore in downtown Mill Valley.
John Brown December 02, 2012 at 04:36 AM
With the addition of the stop light at Shoreline and Tennessee Valley Rd, Miller Ave traffic will now be backed all the way to downtown. These potential new residents wont be able to get out of the parking lot.......another brilliant idea from tree-hugging bureaucrats who live miles away.


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