|Sharon Ruston Sustainable Tam Almonte|
Marin Voice: Flawed housing plan promotes higher densities
By Sharon Rushton
POSTED: 12/07/2014 03:05:47 PM PST
Below is the article as I submitted it to the Marin IJ. (The paper made a couple of edits):
Marin County’s Draft Housing Element (a state mandated document that plans to meet the existing and projected housing needs of Unincorporated Marin) is currently under review by the Supervisors. Unfortunately, the proposed plan is gravely flawed and does not represent the concerns and values of Marin residents throughout the County.
One of the core values that most Marin residents share is a love and respect for nature, which has been demonstrated by a long history of environmental conservation. Residents moved to Marin because they treasured the small-town, semi-rural and rural character of their neighborhoods and the nearby parks and open space. Such values are still current, as reflected by residents' recent outcry against the huge WinCup apartment complex in Corte Madera. Regrettably, the draft housing plan — a state-mandated document that plans to meet the existing and projected housing needs of unincorporated Marin — ignores this revered history and recent uproar.
As currently written, the Housing Element unnecessarily plans for over 200 percent more housing units than required by law and includes detrimental programs geared to housing developments that could:
• Greatly increase density by changing the definition of a "unit," such as calculating studios as 50 percent of a unit, one-bedroom apartments as 66 percent of a unit, two-bedrooms as one unit, and three or more bedrooms as 1.5 units.
• Dramatically raise height limits — up to 45 feet (similar to the WinCup apartments).
• Cluster housing units at 30 units per acre even in single-family neighborhoods.
• Reduce onsite parking and force residents to park on crowded streets or in public parking areas that are meant for other purposes.
• Promote streamlined and ministerial "over-the-counter" permit review.
• Allow the number of units in traffic impact areas to exceed pre-established housing unit CAPs.
Including a site in the "Housing Element's Site Inventory" increases the likelihood that it would be developed and developed at a higher density. State laws restrict the County from disapproving housing development or reducing residential density at a site listed in the inventory, with extremely limited exceptions.
The housing plan promotes an excessive number of high-density housing developments with even greater potential density, height, and size than currently allowed. The plan could change the entire architectural landscape of unincorporated Marin! Such densification with the ensuing population growth would increase the risk of adverse impacts on the environment, public health and safety, traffic congestion, infrastructure, utilities (water), public services (schools), views, sunlight, privacy and neighborhood character.
Streamlined and ministerial "over-the-counter" permit review of housing projects would hinder thorough and accurate review, constrain valuable public input on planning decisions, and reduce transparency, thereby diminishing the quality and safety of the developments.
Marin County's fate is in the supervisors' hands:
According to the recent Marin IJ article — "Governor Brown signs bill easing pressure for dense development in Marin" — the supervisors expressed commitment to lowering Marin's density.
"The county of Marin is dedicated and committed to affordable housing that is consistent with the community in which it is located," Supervisor Kate Sears said. "We will continue to engage all of our partners in an effort to develop affordable housing opportunities that recognize and complement the suburban and rural character of our county."
We commend the Supervisors on their above goal. We now urge them to make decisions about the Draft Housing Element that are consistent with their commitment and: 1) Reduce the number of sites and units identified in the plan’s Inventory – Especially remove sites with multiple constraints and hazards; and 2) Eliminate proposed programs that foster incongruent high-density housing and inadequate permit review. Such revisions to the plan would help to protect Marin's environment, safeguard public health and safety and preserve our suburban and rural neighborhoods.
If you agree, then please sign our online petition at: tamalmonte.org/issues/
Sharon Rushton of Mill Valley is Chairperson of Sustainable TamAlmonte.