The Coastal Post - October, 1999

Pt. Reyes Discusses 24 Percent Growth For Town

By Jeanette Marie Pontacq

"All community members and interested parties" were invited to a meeting September 9 in Point Reyes Station by the Marin County Community Development Agency, Supervisor Steve Kinsey and the Ecumenical Association for Housing. The meeting was closely sculpted by county authorities to provide a forum for basic information on and discussion of a large, proposed EAH affordable housing project in the middle of town.

The proposed project, which is sketched out at 50 units divided between owned homes and rented apartments, would abut another, separate project of 36 units for seniors. All together, the developments would entail 86 units on 33 acres of land. Since there are now only 362 residential units in all of Point Reyes Station, the addition of 86 units would immediately increase the town by 24 percent. Thus the controversy to date.

This recent meeting, however, was almost devoid of questions, let alone controversy. Instead, it was an emotional love fest for affordable housing attended heavily by those who hope to qualify for the housing if it is built. Speaker after speaker extolled the virtues of such a development while describing their difficulties in finding, keeping and affording marketrate housing in the area.

It is unfortunate that "affordable housing" has become a pc mantra on a level with mama and apple pie. Such a situation makes critical thinking on the real pros and cons of a Big Development proposal very difficult for wary residents of a small town. Those residents brave enough to speak up with questions and concerns regarding the large development proposed for their midst were dismissed as putting more importance on land-use problems than the human problems of finding affordable housing in the area for low-income people. So most concerned land owners and critical residents kept quiet. Supervisor Kinsey and EAH thus have a somewhat skewed impression of the actual sentiments toward this development by townspeople.

The meeting was designed by the county to get community comment on "the desirability of initiating a locally based visioning process to explore potential uses for the parcel." Supervisor Kinsey, representing the county, intends to appoint a Task Force from the community for this purpose. Unfortunately, Kinsey, who has his own agenda supporting more Big Development in West Marin, will personally choose and reject Task Force members. Also unfortunate is the fact that the definition of "community" was never made.

Supervisor Kinsey, as do many others, refers to Point Reyes Station as the "hub" of West Marin, and assumes that just about everyone in West Marin should have a say in this project for that reason. The actual residents of the village of Point Reyes Station, who number around 800, are thus often outnumbered and outvoted by residents of other villages and towns in making village policy. As one long-time resident complained recently, "My neighbors and I live right here in town, and will be directly affected by this development, the increased traffic, sewage seepage, water use, noise and light. Why is it that someone in Inverness, living four miles away, can willy nilly decide that WE should have a big development of affordable housing? HE doesn't have to sleep with it like we do!"

The Task Force should thus reflect the residents, land owners and business community of Point Reyes Station itself. If not, the village itself would have lost control of its own welfare and any report ultimately made by the Task Force could be suspect.

Once emotions have calmed down, everyone needs to look at the larger picture: The Potential Build-Out of Point Reyes Station. As of July of 1998, the county counted 362 residential units in the town. According to county zoning regulations, there are hypothetically 326 more such units coming before the town reaches maximum build out at 688 units. Obviously, a number of those hypothetical additional units would not ever be built due to site specific restraints, but enough WILL be built to strongly increase the overall density and footprint of the town.

The question, rarely addressed at all, is not whether residents want more affordable housing, but when and how they want to reach maximum built out. Residents have a choice, if they demand it, to control the terms and rate of how the town grows, including the rate that more affordable housing should be included.

The 86 units in the proposed developments are 26 percent of the hypothetical total new units and 24 percent of the existing residential units.

To date, change in the density of the town has been at a slow enough pace that it was not a sudden shock to the system of residents. An immediate 24 percent increase will have a huge impact on the town, especially when it is combined with the ongoing and accelerating building of marketrate housing, both as primary residences and second units.

In looking at this particular parcel, or any parcel in the town, residents need to assess it in view of: 1) the town's acceptable terms and rate of maximum buildout; and 2) the carrying capacity and community sustainability of the village.

Only the most naive would try to rely solely on Marin County Government, the State of California or the Federal government to adequately protect West Marin villages from development pressures. One needs only look at the French Ranch fiasco to see the truth of that statement.

Instead, Point Reyes Station and its neighbors need to bite the bullet and develop a strong, self-governing infrastructure, truly representative of residents, that can act to control the rate of growth in such a way that the community and livability of the towns are preserved. A possible example is on the Tiburon peninsula, which is also unincorporated, where residents are looking into a similar idea called the "environmental district," which would be used to give them direct, local land-use control authority. Such protection might be applicable for the Dillon, Tomales, Marshall, Inverness, and Inverness Park areas well as Olema, Nicasio, Hicks and Chileno Valleys. Not to mention Point Reyes Station itself.

Without some such infrastructure in place, the towns are relatively defenseless against the pro-development stance of the county et al. Worse case scenario would be a wrap-around build-out of the Tomales Bay Area, with Inverness and Inverness Park growing into each other and then into Point Reyes Station and even Olema. At a minimum, each village would be in build-out.

Point Reyes Stations residents need to come together and ask themselves what constitutes a reasonable rate of growth for the town. And they need to take control of their own village's future. If they simply sit back and depend on the county to "take charge," they are asking for maximum build-out as soon as possible. And I don't think they will like what they get.

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