A majority of the Fairfax Town Council has decided to dump a controversial zoning ordinance that paved the way for creation of 124 new housing units in town.

The council voted 3-2 to direct town staff to begin the process of repealing the ordinance, said Fairfax Town Manager Garrett Toy.

A group of Fairfax residents gathered more than 1,000 signatures to put a referendum on the ballot to force the council to repeal the ordinance. Fairfax's town clerk ruled, however, that the signatures were not gathered in compliance with state law, and this week the signature gatherers appealed to a Marin Superior Court judge to overturn that decision.

Former Fairfax councilman Frank Egger, one of the leaders of the petition drive, said, "I think it's a smart move for the Town Council. They totally underestimated the Fairfax community and how it responds to growth issues. Hopefully, this may be a step towards resolving this."

Council members Larry Bragman, John Reed and Barbara Coler voted to repeal; council members David Weinsoff and Renee Goddard cast dissenting votes.

The ordinance was adopted March 5 on a 3-1-1 vote. At that time, Bragman cast the dissenting vote, while Coler did not vote due to a potential conflict of interest involving property she owns.

Toy said, "Barbara had previously recused herself, but now she has a letter from the Fair Political Practices Commission that indicates she doesn't have a conflict."

Goddard said she would have supported repealing a section of the ordinance that contained some errors; but she couldn't support going back to the drawing board. Goddard said the ordinance was the product of 14 years of work.

"I really believe that due process was done," Goddard said. "I did not feel any justification for pulling the entire thing for review."

Toy said in order to repeal the ordinance the town will have to go through the process of adopting a new ordinance. The first step will be a public hearing before the town's Planning Commission.

The ordinance implements zoning changes necessary to bring the town into compliance with state housing law. Every county and municipality in California is required to design its zoning laws so as to encourage the creation of a certain number of housing units every seven years.

The areas affected by the rezoning are:

• 53 units in the second stories of buildings throughout the downtown.
• A minimum of 20 units per acre on 2 acres at the Christ Lutheran Church property on the west end of town.
• 22 units at the site of the former Mandarin Garden restaurant at 10 Olema Road.
• 9 units at School Street Plaza.

If Fairfax fails to meet the state mandate to foster housing creation, it could lose a $300,000 state grant to make improvements in its downtown Parkade. The grant is contingent on Fairfax conforming with the state housing mandate.

"There is always a risk," Toy said. "I don't know where the process is going to take us."
But Toy remains optimistic that town residents will be able to agree on an alternative plan for meeting its housing goals.

"We may end up in the same place," he said.

Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at rhalstead@marinij.com. Follow him at twitter.com/halsteadrichard