The Coastal Post - October 1999

General Plan Revisions:
Tremendous Changes In Store For Fairfax

By Terri Avillar

It may come as a surprise to many Fairfax residents that on October 21, 1999, the Planning Commission will begin public hearings on a significant General Plan Amendment. The three stages of review for this Amendment are the Public Participation Advisory Committee (PAC-just completed), the Planning Commission, and the Town Council. Although the PAC has been meeting for nine months, the Planning Department has advertised only one of those meetings in a newspaper. State law requires that the Planning Commission review the entire Amendment at its public hearings. Although I am a member of the PAC, the following are my independent views and observations.

The first version of the Amendment, the Draft Technical Update (DTU), was released in April, 1999 and showed deletions of the existing Plan text by line-out, and newly written portions by shading. The August 1999 version, referred to as the one for Public Review, however, incorporates both changes so that the reader has no way of knowing what has been deleted and what is new. Both versions can be obtained at Town Hall and should be available at the library, along with the White Papers which give a consultant's "vision" for Fairfax.

Perhaps the most important paragraph in Fairfax's existing plan has been deleted in the DTU. It reads: "In the process of discussing the plan and moving along from decision to decision, the plan became more and more a reflection of local direction and attitudes rather than a set of staff proposals." Precisely the opposite has occurred in the current amendment process. The DTU was written by planning staff and a consultant, Design, Community & Environment of Berkeley. It contains not only new goals and policies but extensive revisions to the Land Use, Circulation and Open Space Elements-all written without community input. PAC review was rushed and no substantive recommendations by committee members regarding policies were accepted by planning staff.

According to State law, all seven elements of a general plan (Land Use, Circulation, Housing, Conservation, Open-space, Noise and Safety) are of equal importance and these must be mutually consistent. A general plan amendment should be consistent with the existing goals, policies, maps and diagrams of all seven elements, should be in the public's interest and should advance community goals. Thus, compliance with State requirements should include extensive community participation which is lacking in this amendment proposal.

The DTU was supposed to remove outdated information and bring the existing plan current legally and factually, as well as reflect existing conditions in the planning area. An example of outdated information which has been deleted is the once-proposed Highway 17 which was to divert traffic from central Fairfax through a northwesterly corridor near Loma Alta. There are many inconsistencies, however, in what current information has been omitted, what outdated information remains, and language which is altogether new.

Some changes the Amendment proposes are:

1) Residential building sites do not have to meet minimum lot size to be legally created lots of record.

2) On the new Land Use map and in the Land Use Element text, some private property is designated quasi-public and public access where no public easements exist.

3) The requirement that "Structure cannot cover more than 10% of the area" has been deleted from the Marin Town & Country Club "Commercial-Recreation" definition.

One topic of considerable PAC debate concerned the Conservation Element's existing language that "the Fairfax Planning area does not contain a habitat identified with any rare or endangered species," language which was not updated for the amendment proposal. A recent survey performed by a wildlife biologist confirmed, with sightings, that at least seven sensitive species exist in the planning area, including Northern spotted owl and winter-run steelhead. Further, correspondence from the National Marine Fisheries Service, dated July 30, 1999, confirmed to the Planning Director, Elizabeth Patterson, that Central California coast steelhead occur in Cascade, San Anselmo, Fairfax and Corte Madera Creeks and that these creeks are "located within the proposed critical habitat for steelhead."

After three PAC meetings, Director Patterson finally agreed to place a list of endangered, threatened or significant animal and plant species, as identified by state and federal agencies, in the amendment Appendix (C), but stated "it will not be included in the Plan that they are here...Why do we want to perpetuate this favoritism of species by just saying steelhead and spotted owl?" When the wildlife survey appeared in the Appendix, it had been altered to remove the statement "List of Fauna OBSERVED within Cascade Canyon and White's Hill Preserves."

A new directive of the proposed Amendment is to place all residences on a sewer system (Conservation Element 2.2), without providing any policies for regulating existing individual disposal systems to ensure water quality, health and safety. Sewer construction in Cascade Canyon alone would facilitate construction of 15-20 new homes on slopes in excess of a 30% grade, amidst northern spotted owl and steelhead habitat. Development plans for this area currently are pending.

The Planning Commission recently approved the Care Meridien project (Sir Francis Drake Blvd. near Oak Manor Road) which entailed removal of several heritage Valley oaks and the excavation and rerouting of Manor Creek to build a critical care facility. Although the Town Code prohibits development within 20 ft. of a creek, construction is proceeding on both sides of, and adjacent to, the creek. Another project is proposed for Fairfax Creek at 300 Olema Road to control flooding. An hydrology study is being conducted to investigate engineered alternatives to the natural flood plain which exists at the Marin Town & Country Club property in order to facilitate development of that land. As mentioned, sewer construction is planned for San Anselmo Creek in Cascade Canyon. Existing Plan language calls for reservoirs to "improve" the "natural appearance" of streams. Due to existing and planned streambed alteration construction, wildlife protections should be incorporated into the General Plan Amendment.

The White Papers author envisions a San Antonio-style Riverwalk in downtown Fairfax to attract shoppers, the transfer of parking from the Parkade elsewhere to provide a pedestrian Town Center focal point, the elimination of parking along the western side of the Bolinas Road commercial area, and a change of zoning so that all street-stores are retail ones which attract walk-in shoppers.

The proposed General Plan Amendment very clearly sets the stage for a major development at the Marin Town & Country Club property so that if and when a change to the existing Commercial-Recreation zoning occurs, the General Plan will be consistent with a significant development proposal. Zoning has to conform to the General Plan, not vice versa.

General plan amendments are subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Planning Department has determined that a Negative Declaration should be prepared for the Amendment and it will be reviewed simultaneously at the public hearings. Very simply put, a Negative Declaration can be prepared when there is no substantial evidence in light of the whole record a project may have a significant effect on the environment, including social impacts and historical resources.

Considering the tremendous changes this Amendment would make to the Town of Fairfax by facilitating the potential for maximum development, and the tremendous cost of the consultant (initial draft amendment: $9,000-$18,000; next phase estimate: $95,000-$225,000), interested residents should attend the Planning Commission hearings which begin on October 21, and especially the Town Council meetings, at which level a legally-binding determination will be made.

Three Fairfax Town Council candidates are members of the PAC. Niccolo Caldararo and Lew Tremaine voted against approving the amendment as written, and Maurice Weitman voted to approve it as written.

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