Mill Valley City Hall.

When the Mill Valley City Council this week held its latest hearing on the feasibility of its plans to create more housing opportunities for people who work in Mill Valley or would like to live here but cannot afford to do so, it did so within the context of a new dynamic.

In a lengthy meeting featuring dozens of speakers seemingly split between neighbors opposed to the 1 Hamilton Drive project‘s possible impact on quality of life and Mill Valley residents who want to see more below-market housing opportunities created in town, the Council unanimously agreed to move forward.

That is, they voted to approve an exclusive negotiating agreement with EAH Housing its developer partner on the site, and allocated funds from the city’s affordable housing trust to support pre-development activities like community outreach, site planning, design and environmental review. They’re eyeing the first community workshop on the project in mid-March focusing on issues like the need to relocate the property’s existing restrooms, electric charging stations and public parking of up to a total of 50 public parking spaces.

But before they got a chance to do that outreach, they received a written threat of litigation from attorney Patrick Soluri of Soluri Meserve on behalf of the Friends of Hauke Park based on environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

“It seems (the litigants) have taken the position that the city is somehow approving a project tonight,” City Attorney Inder Khalsa said. “All that we are asking council to authorize is due diligence. Cities sometimes need to enter into preliminary administrative agreement before exploring sites and that’s exactly what is happening tonight. We don’t have enough info to actually do a full environmental analysis even if we wanted to.”

Facing significant opposition from residents in the Enchanted Knolls neighborhood and adjacent areas, councilmembers have sought to dispel the notion that a development at 1 Hamilton Drive would be the lone effort to address the City’s efforts to create conditions for more affordable housing. Hamilton Drive-area residents have pushed City officials to explore other neighborhoods and housing opportunities before doing so in their part of town, which has a history of multi-use and some affordable developments. 

Councilmembers have countered that the Hamilton Drive site shows the most promise as a City-owned parcel in proximity to transit corridors and commercial areas, but that all other options are on the table. “This is not going to be the only site we will look at for affordable housing,” Councilmember Urban Carmel added in September, noting that other sites, like the Edgewood Reservoir, the Miller Avenue commercial corridor and areas around the Mill Valley Golf Course and Boyle Park tennis courts, are potentially on the table.

As city officials move toward next steps in the process, they do so knowing they’re facing a monster of a mandate. At a workshop via Zoom on Feb. 16, city officials continue their work on the process of creating a new Housing Element for years 2023-2031, a long-term, state-mandated process under the specter of ABAG’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation that calls for an eye-popping increase in the number of units to be planned for by the city, from 129 units in the 2014-2022 cycle to 865 units in 2023-2031.

City officials have made it clear that they are serious about pulling every lever possible to create the conditions that would significantly expand on the approximately 6,670 current housing units and support the amount of additional housing for which they’re on the hook, according to ABAG.

The Feb. 16th workshop at 6:30pm (REGISTER HERE) seeks to address the question: “What Housing and Land Use Strategies Should be Used to Plan for New Housing? City officials want residents to take this survey to share their thoughts on possible housing and land use strategies as part of the Housing Element Update process.

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