In a 3-1 vote with Councilmember Max Perrey voting against, the Mill Valley City Council agreed to reject an appeal by Bob Silvestri of Community Venture Partners, who filed an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of the mixed-use project referred to as Richardson Terrace.
The move is the latest step Richardson on his 18-year journey to build housing on his 575 Blithedale property at the intersection of East Blithedale Ave. and Camino Alto. The appeal came on the heels of the Planning Commission’s 4-1 approval of the project after its decision to continue the public hearing that was halted in a flurry of confusion late at night on Nov. 17.
In a follow-up hearing, the commission considered Richardson’s proposed mixed-use, (25-unit and 2,240 sq ft commercial space) development. They did so within the context that the project fits under the Housing Accountability Act (HAA), SB 330, and Density Bonus Law. The commissioners also considered the application on a draft resolution related to CEQA Exemption under Sections 15332 and 15183; and to support the project’s Conditional Use Permit, Tentative Map, Design Review & Tree Removal Permit. Commissioner Greg Hildebrand voted against.
The project’s size, scope, impact and possibilities have long remained front and center, as have the logistics of the busy intersection where it is proposed. It’s the latest chapter in the longtime local builder’s enthusiastic attempt to develop a 1.2-acre property that he’s owned since 2004, facing stiff opposition ever since from neighbor groups that have packed public hearings, hired land-use attorneys and gone back and forth with him via sign wars.
Richardson has proposed a 25-unit proposal that calls for six 800-square foot affordable homes; six 800-square-foot homes designed for seniors, three 1,100-square-foot market rate homes and 10 2,100-square foot market rate homes. It also includes 2,240 square feet of ground floor commercial office space on a 1.2-acre site. Richardson proposes 12 of the housing units above the office space, including 11 two-bedroom units and 1 one-bedroom unit.
Richardson’s architect, award-winning architect Mark Cavagnero, a Mill Valley resident, has previously re-imagined the original street level design to fit in with the surrounding commercial buildings and draw elements from each of those existing buildings.Mill Valley resident Mark Cavagnero, noted that the project’s mass was reduced to 80 percent of what’s allowed and the unit count as 74 percent of what he could build.
Eric Phillips, Richardson’s land use attorney, pointed out the litany of key local updates and California state law changes that have occurred since Richardson last proposed a development on Kite Hill in 2006. That includes the City of Mill Valley’s passage of a new General Plan in 2013, which created the land use and density standards with which the project complies. City officials also prepared and certified a full Environmental Impact Report that analyzed all the environmental impacts throughout the city and including at the site.
The project received a jolt of support in November 2022 when the Mill Valley School District board of trustees unanimously agreed to sign a letter of intent with Richardson’s Blithedale Terrace, LLC, to buy six below-market rate units for use as district workforce housing. The district intends to buy the six units and rent them at below market rates to teachers and staff employed in the district, according to the staff report. The agreement calls for three low-income units to be sold to the district for approximately between $264,000 and $335,000 and three moderate income units to be sold in the range of $319,000 to $405,000.
A significant portion of the trepidation around the Richardson Terrace project has focused on safety with regard to entering and exiting the property.
The council leaned on the testimony of Planning Commission Chair Jon Yolles, who reported on the various elements of the project and indicated how the commission came to support the project. Those elements included a deeper look at the traffic analysis of the project’s impact on traffic and safety at the project’s intersection of East Blithedale and Camino Alto.
“When I first began reading about the project, I had a number of concerns, but as I dug deeper into the traffic analysis and the traffic engineer and DPW, I discovered that those concerns weren’t as significant as I thought.” Yolles noted that data indicated that the project, even at peak car travel hours, would result in 16 cars coming and going from the site per hour, or one every four minutes. “It really is imperceptible if one more car is coming by our homes every four minutes,” Yolles said.
“The community has shown strong support for affordable housing through this process,” Councilmember Urban Carmel noted. “That did not happen in 2016. It is extremely encouraging to see the outpouring of support and enthusiasm for affordable housing in our town, That is a great step forward for this town.”
Here are some additional renderings of Richardson’s project, courtesy Mark Cavagnero Associates: