By Damon Connolly and Don Dickenson
Marin County recently settled with the Silveira family concerning their 340-acre ranch alongside Highway 101 in San Rafael. This iconic parcel physically separates Novato and San Rafael with a scenic mix of grasslands, valley oaks and tideland habitats associated with the Miller Creek estuary.
The settlement prohibits development of the ranch for at least the next 10 years — and it could pave the way for permanent preservation.
We thank the Silveira family for their willingness to achieve a result that will benefit the entire community.
The settlement ends the risk of litigation against the county related to the 2007 Countywide Plan.
A history lesson on the land is necessary here for context.
In 1967, the Silveira family entered into a Williamson Act contract with the county, meaning the land was limited to agricultural use and would be taxed at a lower rate. The 1973 Marin Countywide Plan effectively designated the Silveira lands to be considered for urban development upon their annexation to the city of San Rafael. Due to this new designation, the property wasn’t renewed for its Williamson Act contract, and it resulted in a significant tax increase for the Silveira family.
Contemplating eventual annexation, the city amended its General Plan to designate the Silveira and St. Vincent’s properties as “mixed use,” allowing for 2,100 homes, 100,000 square feet of commercial space and 261,000 square feet of office space. This designation drastically upped the value of the lands, and further increased its tax burden.
In 2003, the San Rafael City Council changed its outlook regarding development of the St. Vincent’s and Silveira properties and decided not to annex the Silveira ranch, effectively abandoning its plans for urban development on the properties. Subsequently, planning responsibility for them returned to the county and the 2007 Countywide Plan reduced the development potential of both properties to a maximum of 221 homes. This decreased the value of the lands — and was the basis of a possible legal challenge by the Silveira family.
The county weighed the cost of prolonged litigation, the community’s interest in protecting the land from development and the myriad issues stemming from the realities of affixing a price tag on potentially permanent protection from development.
In exchange for a full release and Williamson Act protection, the county will pay approximately $2.6 million in unpaid property taxes and related penalties and interest in the settlement.
The settlement removes the final legal threat to the inclusion of these properties in the Baylands Corridor and the strong environmental and resource protection policies contained in the Countywide Plan.
The settlement puts the land back into the Williamson Act for a minimum of 10 years. The 10-year term of the Williamson Act contract automatically renews each year unless either the property owner or the county gives notice of non-renewal.
This is all great news, but our work is not done. The authors’ objective is to work with the Silveira family and the community to permanently protect the treasured Silveira ranch, either through acquisition or a conservation easement. This would preserve the open countryside and safeguard the agricultural and cultural legacies that exist in the area for future generations.
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Editor's Note: While conservation is a laudable goal, restoration of the Silveira property rights is vital. Glad to see that a reasonable solution has been found but the next stage is how future developments or conservation happens. As a Marinwood resident, I'd rather see modest developments on the Silveira property than the wholesale redevelopment of the "Marinwood Priority Area" (all neighborhoods East of Las Gallinas) proposed by Susan Adams and Judy Arnold. Their vision of growth will mean the destruction of single family homes to be replaced withhigh density housing. With new housing laws likely to be enacted in Sacramento, there will be little we will able to do against developers who want to exploit our neighborhood.