In a recent column, the IJ's Dick Spotswood hits the nail on the head: North Coast is asking for too much. And to quote Spotswood himself: "The first element that needs to be dropped is a relocated Branson School."
Read the full column here.
Former Branson Trustee Peter Thigpen wrote a powerful Marin Voice regarding the school's lack of engagement with the Strawberry community. Read the piece here.
What: Strawberry Design Review Board
When: Monday December 7th at 7:30pm
Where: Strawberry Recreation District Gym - 118 E Strawberry Drive
A recent county-sponsored “Vision” survey indicates Strawberry’s greatest asset is its “stable, quiet neighborhoods.” Respondents’ greatest concern is higher-density development and a change in institutional use on the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary.
The dominant issue?
Now that North Coast Land Holdings has submitted its development plans, it seems Strawberry residents have a lot to be concerned about. The plan includes a commuter high school for up to 1,000 students and the construction of over 300 rental townhouses.
The developer suggests the project complies with the existing master plan, but that is hardly the case.
The existing use permit is for a seminary, with on-campus housing. Neighbors don’t believe this is comparable to a 1,000-student commuter high school when the implications of traffic, parking, noise and after-school events are considered.
But that’s not all. The application also proposes the demolition of 198 existing relatively “affordable” housing units. They would be replaced with 304 much larger rental homes — in total, 74,000 square feet larger.
That’s the equivalent of about 37 average-sized Strawberry homes.
Of the new housing, only 20 percent would be affordable, leaving the rest at “market rates.” And for even greater density, the developer seeks a one-to-one ratio with existing units. That means a tiny dormitory room would be replaced by a townhouse many times its size.
Specifically, the project application calls for an increase of 287 bedrooms.
Consider the impact this would place on our infrastructure, schools, water and traffic.
This won’t help meet Marin’s housing requirements. In fact, it greatly reduces affordability by the demolition of 198 smaller units.
Fortunately, Marin residents aren’t buying this affordable-housing ploy any longer. They realize it isn’t about “not-in-my-back yard” attitudes, either. They understand it’s about traffic, parking and an infrastructure that simply can’t keep up with our population growth.
And it’s not just Strawberry that can’t sustain a project of this size. This would affect everyone in Marin who has to deal with traffic and parking.
Some might be swayed by the mantra, “This will be a long process.” But by the time most discover what’s going on, issues of completeness, traffic studies, environmental reviews and use permits will have long been decided. At that point, remaining considerations might only include landscaping or color choices.
Just look at the WinCup housing fiasco to understand the importance of public oversight. Corte Madera town officials were worried about getting involved in another affordable-housing lawsuit like the 1998 fight that cost the town $400,000 to defend and settle. According to the county grand jury, with the town faced with meeting a state-required allocation to build 244 housing units, developers in 2011 applied for and later received permits to build the massive 180-unit housing block we see today.
Unfortunately, the state later determined the requirement was a mistake and the town’s correct allocation should only be 72 units. But by then it was too late.
Along the way, the town increased the General Plan’s 25-units-per-acre maximum to 40 units per acre, increased height limits and reduced the 25 percent affordable-unit requirement to just 10 percent, after owners complained the project wouldn’t be economically feasible.
Now it appears North Coast Land Holdings is seeking maximum development rights in Strawberry.
This is what developers do. And that’s why it’s important to uphold the principles of our Seminary Master Plan and the Strawberry Community Plan — before it’s too late.
This is an issue that concerns all of us. Consider it next time you’re stuck in traffic.
Chuck Ballinger is a longtime Strawberry resident and a former chairman of the Strawberry Design Review Board.
Seminary site can’t handle the additional traffic
Change is coming to the Golden Gate Theological Baptist Seminary site. Most of us who live in Strawberry understand that reality.
But, the present master plan does not allow for a massive new development of 300 houses, 1,000 high school day students, teachers, employees, visiting athletic teams, nighttime events, parking on residential streets, waiting at impassable intersections, driving buses on a narrow cliff-side entrance road, etc.
And the traffic congestion at the Highway 101 and Tiburon Boulevard interchange will virtually implode.
Residents of Mill Valley and the Tiburon Peninsula are already fighting this traffic. In some cases it can take an hour to get to the freeway from Mill Valley in the morning commute. Afternoon traffic is already at a standstill going north onto the freeway.
So that Branson can have a larger school? And triple its present traffic disruption from Ross to Strawberry?
As Strawberry residents, we can only rely on the county Board of Supervisors to bring some sense to this ridiculous proposal.
We sincerely hope its members will do so.
— Willard Tunney, Mill Valley
Strawberry plan sign of ‘rapid growth’ in Marin
The proposed plan for the former seminary in Strawberry is not a “Strawberry-only issue.” This is a plan that will impact the lives of all citizens of Marin.
For every person who drives past Seminary Drive on their way to and from work, your commute will be affected by the increased traffic that 1,000 students, 200 or more teachers and staff and the 400-plus new residents of this site will bring.
To the parents in West Marin who drive your children to Strawberry Point School, imagine your mornings with all of this additional traffic.
To our neighbors in Tiburon and Belvedere, imagine your drive home resembling the slog that is a weekend excursion to Stinson Beach.
In addition to the Seminary site there are proposed medical offices for Strawberry that would also add an additional 1,200 vehicles each day to this area.
If this is left to the residents of unincorporated Strawberry to fight, I fear we will all lose. Every resident of Marin concerned about traffic congestion should lobby their supervisor to slow down this “progress” and evaluate all of the costs of this congestion — quality of life, pollution, water usage and environmental impacts to name only a few.
Only together can we stop the rapid over-development of Southern Marin.
— Tom Yurch, Strawberry
Branson’s plan comes at cost to neighbors
The announced plans by the North Coast developer of the former Baptist Theologial Seminary property in Strawberry include a new 1,000-student high school for the Branson School, to get Branson out from under the 320-student cap that Ross has imposed at its current campus.
The Ross regulations have tried to deal with the negative traffic, noise and other impacts of the private school in that town.
What a great idea, as glowingly described by the developer’s mouthpiece, Cavagnero & Associates. Branson would more than triple its enrollment, which at a per-student tuition of $41,055 comes out to a cool pile of additional cash for the millionaires’ private school: $27.9 million.
And all this at the expense of the entire Strawberry neighborhood that would have to put up with the traffic, noise and broken promises Ross has been dealing with, but at a much more intense level.
Clever business plan by North Coast, Cavagnero and Branson, but fortunately that would require the 180-degree revision of several adopted county planning documents and will come to naught, except to sully the reputation of Branson.
— Bob Reitherman, Mill Valley
Community needs a say in seminary plans
If you go back to the original IJ article on April 1, 2014 when the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary property was sold, you will find promise-filled quotes that talk about a collaborative and open community process for the site’s future. The architect spoke of “engaging the community to see what is sustainable” and being truly interested in “a process that really wants to engage the community.”
Call me naïve, but doesn’t that sound like something a responsible developer might actually follow through on — especially when it’s a proposal that’s as ambitious as building 300 new residences and planting a 1,000-student high school into an existing, quiet neighborhood like Strawberry?
Well, fast forward to where we are today. Neither the developer, North Coast Land Holdings, nor the primary tenant, The Branson School, bothered to even ask the Strawberry community for their thoughts or feedback on their plans. That’s right, not a single public community meeting was ever held.
Now, we have a development proposal on the table that simply doesn’t reflect Strawberry’s character.
In my opinion, if you want to join a community, you must be willing to stand up to explain your project to the neighborhood — not huddle behind closed doors to shield yourself from tough questions.
Perhaps the developer needs to go back and re-read that original IJ article to see what they had promised. They should also pay particular attention to what our supervisor, Kate Sears, had to say back then: “What matters most is that (new owners) have a good public process and talk to the community.”
— Esther Shafran, Mill Valley
Branson plan doesn’t fit Strawberry’s vision
Last spring, Supervisor Kate Sears brought together a diverse group of Strawberry residents to create the Strawberry Community Vision. Being in the unincorporated part of Marin County, it was important for Strawberry residents to come together and really define how we’d like to see our community’s future take shape.
Through workshops, a large public open house, and hundreds of survey responses, members of our community volunteered a great deal of their time and effort to produce this comprehensive document.
That’s the good news.
Now for the bad news.
Not one year has passed since the creation of the Strawberry Community Vision, yet the new owner of the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary has chosen to completely ignore our vision.
North Coast Land Holdings, which is funded by the billion-dollar Barbara Fasken trust, is proposing a super-sized Branson High School to be relocated into an existing neighborhood along with hundreds of luxury apartments.
The Vision document is as clear as can be: the Strawberry community will not accept intense density or a high school on the seminary site.
All one has to do is look at the neighborhood to see that Strawberry is already providing much more than its fair share of density. Apartments and townhomes are abundant, which is one reason why neighborhood traffic is already at a breaking point.
If all of the effort that went into the Strawberry Community Vision meant something, this North Coast Land Holdings proposal should never get off the ground.
— Robert W. Hendry, Strawberry