In March, the Mill Valley City Council rejected an appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval of the mixed-use project referred to as Richardson Terrace, the latest move in Phil Richardson’s longstanding effort 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. 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.
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.
As Richardson and his architect, award-winning architect Mark Cavagnero, a Mill Valley resident, move forward with those plans, another longtime Mill Valley developer is taking en even bigger swing at the possibility of creating workforce housing.
Education Housing Partners (EHP) is a California non-profit organization that provides development services to school districts and other public agencies. The nonprofit is a subsidiary of Thompson Dorfman, the real estate development and investment firm formed in 1999 by Mill Valley residents Will Thompson and Bruce Dorfman.
It is partnering on this project with Hayward-based Eden Housing, with Education Housing Partners building the teacher portion and Eden building the family building. The developers aim to break ground in early 2025 if they can obtain the needed financing. Construction is expected to take 27 months, according to SFYimby.
The project, dubbed Oak Hill, aims to make a substantial dent in the dearth of housing, with one three-to-five-story complex including 135 workforce apartments for teachers and county employees, with another building of 115 affordable apartments for low-income and extremely low-income families.
Some 43 percent of Marin County teachers can’t afford a studio apartment in the Larkspur area. The school district began the year with 70 unfilled teaching jobs, the Chronicle reported. The gray, white and beige apartments will overlook the bayside Remillard Park and the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, within walking distance of a SMART Train stop, bus stops, bike trails, a grocery store and shops.
The project has substantial momentum behind it, starting with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2019 executive order that made state-owned surplus properties available for affordable homes, thus providing runway to leverage the former gun range at San Quentin.
The project has a certified environmental study for a 250-unit affordable apartment project at 101 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard (see aerial map below), the San Francisco Chronicle reported. It would become the largest affordable housing project in Marin County in 50 years.
Marin County supervisors have allocated another $1 million to an effort to bring affordable workforce housing to land near San Quentin State Prison, according to the Marin IJ. The new allocation, which will come from the county’s affordable housing trust fund, will help cover the $118 million in development costs for a 135-residence project, likely to be deployed as matching funds to leverage state funds, the IJ reported.
“Due to an increase in interest rates, which have nearly doubled since we initiated the project in 2020, it is necessary to identify and secure funding from a variety of sources,” Dorfman said. “Unlike an affordable housing project, there is no proven pathway for capitalizing workforce housing, and there is limited funding available for this type of housing. We’re teed up to receive potentially $10 million if we can get matching grants to make our application more competitive. We need the availability of these funds to help move this development forward.”
So far supervisors have allocated more than $6.75 million from the county’s affording housing trust fund to the two projects in the hopes of attracting additional state dollars. The county has also allocated more than $2.5 million in federal housing grant money to the projects.
View the location of the site below at the blue marker, with Larkspur Landing at far left, just north of the Ferry Terminal, within walking distance of a SMART Train stop, bus stops, bike trails, a grocery store and shops.