Hearing is set for May 4.


There hasn’t been a more visibly vacant commercial space in Mill Valley over the past several years – save for the blank canvas that is the mother of all retaining walls at 500 Miller Ave. – than the former Gira Polli space at 590 East Blithedale and Camino Alto.

Bay Area food industry vets Pascal Rigo and Nicolas Bernadi have been hoping to change that, leasing the building with the hopes of making it one of the locations for La Boulangerie, the post-Starbucks, slightly renamed rebirth of their popular La Boulange cafes and eateries. They shifted gears earlier this year and decided to make the space home to Apizza, their simple, affordable pizza shop that already has a successful location on Fillmore Street in San Francisco.

Given the shelter in place order in effect through May 3 to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the Apizza renovation is on indefinite hiatus, as is all construction in Mill Valley. And even when that prohibition on non-essential construction is over, they face extremely dire economic circumstance wrought by the outbreak.

But before they have a chance to overcome those significant hurdles, they’re facing a neighbor protest to the Mill Valley Planning Commission’s approval of Apizza’s request to remove a few trees in front of the building at the corner of East Blithedale and Camino Alto. Susan Kirsch, representing the Freeman Park Neighborhood Association, filed an appeal to the Planning Commission’s approval of the tree permit earlier this month.

The City Council was set to hear the appeal on April 20, but Kirsch asked to postpone the hearing because a virtual public hearing, as required under the shelter in place order, would not allow their supporters to provide input in a “normal” manner. City officials agreed to postpone the hearing to May 4, which is within the 45-day timeframe required for appeal hearings. The format of the hearing will depend upon the status of the Shelter in Place Order that ends for the time being on May 3, according to Newman.

The five blackwood acacia and eucalyptus trees were determined by an arborist to be non-heritage trees, according to Lisa Newman, a senior planner with the city. The commission backed the request to remove five 50-foot trees and replace them with red maples – up to 11 trees, each with a 48-inch box.

The trees are also considered a fire threat, have shallow root systems that could damage infrastructure and pose a danger to motorists when the branches are not maintained, according to a report by Bartlett Tree Experts.

The tree removal is part of Bay Area food industry vets Pascal Rigo and Nicolas Bernadi’s plans to “rejuvenate that corner, bring it back alive, fix the building and the site, which is in terrible repair and give something to the community,” Mill Valley architect Christopher Raker told the Marin IJ.

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