The Coastal Post - November 1999

What Pt. Reyes Wants

By Jeanette Pontacq

On September 24th, the Marin County Community Development Department responded in writing to the pre-application request by the Ecumenical Association for Housing (EAH) for a contemplated housing development on the Giacomini parcel in Point Reyes Station. At the same time, the California Coastal Commission issued an assessment of the project.

Both the 11-page response by the county and the two-page assessment by the Coastal Commission reflect serious reservations about the original EAH proposal on numerous levels.

What many found most interesting in reading the litany of problems and concerns expressed by the county was that these are the very same problems and concerns expressed over and over by townspeople during the last year. They are the very same problems and concerns for which proponents of the development "as is" publicly ridiculed, harassed and marginalized those who questioned the project.

They are the very same problems and concerns that EAH earnestly and doggedly ignored all through the many "community" meetings they hosted. The $250,000 EAH states it has already spent on the project could have easily been reduced substantially by their simply paying attention to what the townspeople had to say and designing accordingly in the first place.

After ten pages of detailed analysis, the county planners concluded with this paragraph: "Although the provision of affordable housing is encouraged and consistent with many development policies, the contemplated project raises several issues pertaining to the scale of development, land use compatibility, provision of sewage disposal services and public services, and protection of coastal resources. The overall scale of the development may be inappropriate given the location of the property and its proximity to sensitive coastal resources, such as Lagunitas Creek and on-site wetlands. The design and layout of the development, including roads, may not be compatible with Point Reyes Station and surrounding rural lands, and may be more suited in a suburban setting. The overall size of the development may also raise issues of visual impacts to surrounding areas. The use of a community sewage disposal system raises several issues pertaining to its operation, monitoring, financing and impacts to surface and subsurface hydrology. While the County generally supports the development of affordable housing, the appropriateness of such types of housing in the coastal zone should be balanced with their impacts on the surrounding neighborhood and coastal resources. Given the major coastal policy and physical issues that are associated with this project, staff would strongly encourage you (EAH) to reduce the scale of the project to a level that could be supported on the property and that would be more compatible with the surrounding community. Based upon the information presented to staff, it would appear that a lower project density, based on a density that could be supported by conventional sewage disposal technologies, may be more appropriate for this project and compatible with the surrounding Point Reyes Station village."

Ironically, although EAH pointedly refused to hear the voices of the people of Point Reyes Station over the last year, Supervisor Kinsey obviously did see the political reality and the response to EAH was thus "by the book."

Upon receipt of the above response from the county, EAH began to rework their "development." Prime proponents were immediately on the street, talking up the need to help EAH out by rezoning the property. When that didn't seem to fly, new proposals were floated which ultimately resulted in a mailing to residents outlining "a new way."

Although any new proposal is a moving target as this article is being written, the basic thought now is to phase in the development, starting with 27 affordable rentals, 10 affordable cottages for sale, and perhaps a small berry farm with a three-bedroom house, a second unit and a barn. Another part of the present proposal is to have the originally designated eight "live/work" units fronting Mesa Road delayed for at least five years and subsidized by the Marin Community Foundation during that time.

My math shows that 27 plus 10 plus 2 plus 8 equals 47 units of varying size and impact over five years. The plan nixed by the county and the coastal commission had 51 units of varying size and impact right now. The difference in numbers is 4. Five years is soon, especially when one realizes that it will take several years to build the initial 39 anyway. All phasing in really means is that construction inconveniences and noise will last for more years.

Questions are more pertinent than ever, since this issue is coming down to the wire. Will the proposed farm on the top acreage be sold under a stipulation that it cannot be resold and subdivided? Will the wetlands be saved and protected? Can it be guaranteed that one community septic and at least 12 individual septics on that piece of property, already known to "sheet" water, won't impact our water supply wells in Lagunitas Creek or harm the salmon run? How about traffic increases from such a development? With such a large development, who will pay for storm drains for the town to alleviate potential flooding from the property in high water years? What will be the impact on such a small town of this large project along with the proposed private senior housing on adjacent acreage?

The land which will be set aside for future development, under the auspices of the Marin Community Foundation, is a big question mark. What guarantees are there for what will go there in five years? Eight units of live/work space, or something else? My bet is something else. That cannot be left vague.

EAH is asking for strong community support for their "new" proposal, whatever it ends up officially being. If EAH wants strong community support from the residents and business people in Point Reyes Station, EAH needs to finally pay rapt attention to what the majority of those same people have been saying over the last year. The project is too large for the town. It is a suburban solution to a rural problem. It needs to be resized downward and redesigned to fit the character fit the character of the town.

My own opinion is that the 27 rentals should be reduced to 16 and complimented with no more than eight to 10 small, for-sale affordable homes. Further, the footprint of the rentals should be minimized, including giving serious consideration to reducing numbers of apartments but increasing the bedroom count within the remainder. Duplexes and triplexes would help as well.

A creative idea may be to satisfy the Coastal Commission requirements for visitor facilities by building a small, low-cost, rural-designed hotel of less than five rooms on Mesa Road. My math shows that to be 26 plus the small hotel/hostel.

Whatever the design for a smaller development, sustainability should be a primary consideration in landscaping, energy utilization, and building design. The dynamic of the project needs to change from a static clinging to large numbers to a more creative concept in both funding and design.

Under no circumstances should the Point Reyes Station community be coerced by threats, either now or in five years, to accept numbers that exceed appropriate levels for septic constraints and community character. We all need to stand up for doing it right, for Point Reyes Station's future.

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