Marin Voice: Can’t afford a wait-and-see approach for Strawberry development

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.

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