Sunday, September 14, 2014

Coming Soon to Marinwood-Lucas Valley? Towering Apartments next door

Soon you may have a forty five foot towering apartment nextdoor if the housing element passes.

Disgusted yet with the Planning Board and our Supervisors?   We received this important email from our trusted friends in the Tam Almonte neighborhood in unincorporated Marin.  Their leader has some important observations below:

Hi Citizen Marin Friends Who Are Concerned about the 2015 to 2023 Marin County Housing Element Programs:

** If you live in Unincorporated Marin, please answer my question at the bottom of this email.

As mentioned before, besides other programs, I have been concerned about the Housing Element Program 1.k - Adjust Height Limits for Multi-family Residential Buildings and after doing some research, now I am more concerned.

I believe excerpts on Page III-15 and Page III-16 of the Housing Element explain the intent of Program 1.k - Adjust Height Limits for Multi-family Residential Buildings.  See below:

Excerpts from 2015 to 2023 Housing Element, Page III – 15:
“Height limits in conventional districts may be exceeded through variance approval (22.20.060.F.1) and height standards are flexible. The fact that multi-family residences cannot reach 45 feet when they meet certain side yard setbacks constrains their design. Subsequent code amendments may allow multi-family development to reach similar height limits as single-family residences that meet 15-foot side yard setbacks. (See program 1.k Adjust Height limits for Multi-family Residential Buildings). The County’s Multi-family Residential Design Guidelines adopted in 2013 provide further guidance for height and design of multi-family development.”

“The lower density permitted in many zoning districts may pose a constraint to multi-family housing. Programs in this element are intended to address this, (See programs 1.c Establish an Affordable Housing Combining District, 1.j Simplify Review of Residential Development Projects in Planned Districts, and 1.k Adjust Height Limits for Multi-family Residential Buildings). In 2013, the Affordable Housing Combined Zoning District (AH) was created and applied to three sites in the unincorporated County to permit affordable housing at increased densities.”

Excerpt from Housing Element Page III-16:
“Conventional districts and planned districts both have strengths and weaknesses with respect to development costs and impediments. In many instances, the hilly terrain found throughout much of Marin increases construction costs unless there is some flexibility in the development standards applicable to a project. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that the more serious impediment to housing development is the uncertainty involved with discretionary planning permits. Permit processing is discussed in greater detail under the Processing and Permit Procedures section.

To ensure that the County’s development standards do not have the prohibitive effects on the development potential or cost of affordable multi-family development, a number of programs in this housing element remove possible barriers:
• 1.a Establish Minimum Densities on Housing Element Sites would prohibits the approval of development on sites identified in the Housing Element with fewer units than shown in the Sites Inventory and Analysis.
•  1.k Adjust Height Limits for Multi-family Residential Buildings would allow increased height limits for multi-family development.”

My Conclusion:
Therefore, my understanding is that Program 1.k is intended to allow Multi-family Residential Buildings to reach 45 feet on commercial/mixed use parcels, which, not certain but I believe, are now limited to 30 feet high (unless a variance is granted).  Program 1.k is also intended to allow an increase in density for Multi-family Residential Buildings.

Please note that this has nothing to do with affordable housing.  This program applies to all Multi-family residential buildings.

Moreover, this program does not just affect Multi-family Residential land use designations but rather all Multi-family residential buildings, including those allowed in the Commercial/Mixed Use Land Use Designations.

This could have a huge effect in Unincorporated Mill Valley where heights of commercial/mixed use parcels are limited to 30 feet on the West side of Shoreline Hwy and limited to 15 feet on the East Side of Shoreline Hwy (The East side is the marsh side).  These height limitations help to constrain the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) and density of developments.  This could mean one more story on the West side and 2 more stories on the East side. (Although, height restrictions in our local community plan might stop this from happening.)

QUESTION to Unincorporated Marin residents:
What is the height limitation of the commercial/mixed use parcels in your area?
  Are heights restricted to 30 feet?

If heights of commercial/mixed use parcels in your area and throughout Marin County are restricted to 30 feet, then this program could change the architectural landscape of the County, raising buildings up another story and taking away a major constraint on density/FAR throughout.

Sharon Rushton
Sustainable TamAlmonte

Brian Crawford, Community Planning Director 

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