Developers of the Mountain Gate project in Tam Valley were dealt a lethal blow at the November 4 Board of Supervisors meeting when the Board voted 4-1 against their appeal of a previous Planning Commission decision. Led by a motion from Supervisor Rose, the Board overwhelmingly upheld a decision by the Planning Commission that the project lapsed in 1992. Supervisor Kress seconded
Shoreline Gateway Association brought the original appeal before the planning commission in September. The SGA is comprised of more than 200 Southern and West Marin residents who are concerned about traffic, fire safety, and other environmental impacts brought on by new development along the Shoreline Highway corridor. Mountain Gate, a proposed development located next to a hair pin turn a mile west of Tam Junction, is owned by San Leandro based Pacific Union Homes. The planning commission agreed with SGA's assertion that the project lapsed in 1992.
"Pacific Union wanted to put in 7 houses per acre, a total of 19 houses in the first phase of development. That kind of density is outrageous for this semi-rural neighborhood", notes Chris Figueroa, founder of the Shoreline Gateway Association. "According to the CHP, the traffic on Shoreline Highway exceeded maximum traffic capacity 10 years ago, and there are blue prints already submitted at the County for a total of 74 houses on this hillside. Nineteen houses were just the beginning, and we had to do something about it."
The Board passed a resolution in 1989, authorizing development of 19 houses on a 3.5 acre portion of the hill with many conditions, including a specific deadline for securing permits. The original developer sued the County when he was unable to get permits in time. The judge issued a ruling dismissing the developer's suit, but gave him leave to amend his complaint against the County. Three months later, the County settled with the developer, granting him everything he asked for. "But in that original complaint," noted Andrew Schwartz, the pro bono attorney for the SGA, "the developer never asked for an extension of the deadline for securing building permits, and the settlement did not grant an extension for building permits. The project died in 1991
when he missed the deadline."
According to county counsel Pat Faulkner, "The intent of the settlement was to extend the deadline for building permits. That's what we were trying to do." Faulkner's motives on this issue are of great concern to many of the community members who spoke at the meeting for several reasons. Faulkner worked directly under Douglas Maloney, the former head of county counsel's office. Maloney now works for Pacific Union. Faulkner also signed the original stipulated judgement with the developer, and would be least objective as to
whether or not the case was handled properly.
Especially troubling to the Board was the fact that four people who worked for the county on this project were now working for the developer, among them former Supervisor Gary Giacomini. "I think it is a mistake for former employees to come before the board on a project, if they once represented the county on the same project" said Supervisor Rose during the hearing. "It doesn't build goodwill in the community." Most of her fellow board members concurred. Supervisors Moore and Kinsey also voted against the developer. Kinsey cautioned the opponents of the project: "This is a very important event for the entire community. I cannot resist this opportunity to let you know that you cannot call on the Board of Supervisors to decide the direction of development on this site." He emphasized the need for every concerned citizen to stay involved with future development proposals for this hillside.
More than 100 opponents of the project heaved a collective sigh of relief when the vote came in. "The Board made a thoughtful considered decision," said Schwartz. "They followed the law and that's the most noble thing they could do."
Although the 19-house project is dead at this point, it could be resurrected by a lawsuit, which the developer will likely file against the County. SGA is closely watching another proposed development located at the top of the same hillside, where the last stand of trees buffers several neighborhoods from Shoreline Highway. "Unfortunately, this is by no means over," says Figueroa. "Now we have to fight for a comprehensive environmental impact report for the entire hillside. That's what should have happened in the first place, 10
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