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Planning & Building

Posted on: October 12, 2022

Richardson Terrace Update – 575 East Blithedale Avenue

Rendering of an mixed-use housing development proposed project October 12, 2022

Proposed Project:

In 2020, the City of Mill Valley Planning Division received a Design Review application for a mixed-use housing development project at 575 East Blithedale Avenue, which is referred to as “Richardson Terrace.” At the time, City staff conducted an initial completeness review and provided comments to the applicant. 

On September 29, 2022, the applicant provided the Planning Division revised design review plans (66 MB Download) for the proposed project, which includes 25 residential units and 2,240 square feet of ground floor commercial office space on a 1.2-acre site. The applicant proposes 12 of the housing units above the office space, including 11 two-bedroom units and 1 one-bedroom unit. The applicant has designated the remaining residential units as townhomes, consisting four 2-bedroom townhomes, and nine 3-bedroom townhomes (those labeled ‘A’ and ‘B’ are 2-bedroom townhomes. Those labeled ‘C’ and ‘D’ are 3-bedrooms). 

Consistent with the City’s affordable housing requirements, the applicant will provide 25% of the housing units (6 units) at below market sale prices. The Mill Valley Municipal Code requires the applicant sell 3 units at an affordable price to moderate-income households (up to 120% of the area median income – or AMI), and 3 units at an affordable price to low-income households (up to 80% of the AMI). These rates are set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); please click here to learn more about qualifying incomes within Marin County.  

In addition, the applicant will pay an affordable housing impact fee to satisfy the project’s remaining 0.25 “fractional unit” affordable housing obligation. 

The project site is designated “Neighborhood Commercial (CN)” in the City’s General Plan and zoned “Limited Commercial (CL).” These designations allow mixed-use projects with a residential component, provided that residential densities are between 17 and 29 units per acre. The applicant proposes a residential density of 21 units per acre. The CL zoning district allows mixed-use buildings with a Conditional Use Permit. 

The application is subject to the California Housing Accountability Act (HAA), Senate Bill 330, and the State Density Bonus Law. State elected representatives developed these laws to facilitate much needed housing in California, and as such, the law requires the City to afford certain protections to any application that is consistent with the regulations. Staff must review the project based on these regulations, which include flexibility to local development standards and design guidelines. In addition, the project applications include a Conditional Use Permit, a Tree Removal Permit and a Tentative Map for condominium purposes. 

Click here to review the design review plans (66 MB Download) submitted to the City on September 29, 2022.

Initial Study / CEQA Analysis: 

Lamphier-Gregory, the City’s environmental consultant for the project, and City staff have fully evaluated the environmental impacts of the proposed project pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The initial study prepared for the project provides substantial evidence that supports the conclusion that the project is categorically exempt from CEQA as an Infill Development pursuant to CEQA Guidelines Section 15332 and that the project qualifies as a “project consistent with a Community Plan or Zoning” pursuant to CEQA Guidelines Section 15183.

Click here to review the Initial Study / CEQA Exemption Document and Appendices.

CITY OFFICIALS HAVE RESCHEDULED THE 575 EAST BLITHEDALE PROJECT TO NOVEMBER 17, 2022, SO AS NOT TO CONFLICT WITH THE NOVEMBER 8 ELECTION. 

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2022 IN PERSON PLANNING COMMISSION PUBLIC HEARING

Mill Valley Community Center, Cascade Room, 180 Camino Alto, starting at 6:30 pm

On November 17, 2022, the Planning Commission will hold a Public Hearing to consider the project and CEQA Exemption. Please join us for an in-person meeting at the Mill Valley Community Center, Cascade Room, 180 Camino Alto, starting at 6:30 pm. 

Please note the November 17, 2022, Planning Commission meeting will not be held in the City Hall Council Chambers. Webcasting and broadcasting on the City’s website and local cable channels will not be available during the meeting. Staff will make a recording of this meeting available to the community after the meeting. 

For More Information and Meeting Participation: 

Email or schedule a meeting with the project contact, Sean Kennings, Contract Planner, sean@lakassociates.com, or view items online. Meeting agenda materials will be available approximately one week prior on the City’s Meeting Agenda and Minutes Page.

The City welcomes all community members to participate by commenting on the project prior to or during the meeting. We strongly encourage commenters to submit written comments at least one day prior to the public hearing. During the public hearing, the Planning Commission Chair will provide a time for public comments, limited to 3 minutes per speaker. Written public comments also will be accepted via email submitted to: Planning@cityofmillvalley.org.

Frequently Asked Questions

This project has a long history dating back to the early 2000s. Why does the City call this a “new” project?

The project applicant has submitted a new application, which the City has accepted for processing. This application is subject to the current rules in place today, including State and City regulations such as the City's adopted General Plan "MV2040," Multi-Family Design Guidelines, and Zoning requirements (also called Development Standards) for projects of this type.

The City and decision-makers are aware of the past applications to develop on the site and the history of the project.

The City prepared an EIR for a prior version of this project. Why is there not a full EIR for this version of the project? 

In 2010, the City of Mill Valley did prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for a similar version of this project, then known as Blithedale Terrace. That 2010 Blithedale Terrace project was not approved and that prior 2010 EIR was not certified. For the current project, the City has carefully followed the environmental review process as established under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and as specifically provided under CEQA Guidelines Section 15060 through 15065. Based on these applicable provisions of CEQA, the City has prepared an Initial Study/CEQA Checklist to determine whether the Project may have a significant effect on the environment. 

The Initial Study/CEQA Checklist provides information and analysis that supports a determination that the project qualifies as an Infill Development project as defined in CEQA Guidelines Section 15332, and is therefore categorically exempt from any further CEQA review. The information and analysis included in the Initial Study also substantiates a conclusion that no exceptions to this CEQA exemption apply to the project. 

Furthermore, the Initial Study/CEQA checklist provides information and analysis that demonstrates the project is consistent with the Mill Valley 2040 General Plan and applicable zoning regulations, and therefore qualifies under CEQA Guidelines Section 15183 as a project that is consistent with a community plan or general plan. These provisions of CEQA are intended to streamline the environmental review of certain types of projects, and to reduce the need to prepare repetitive environmental studies. Such projects do not require additional environmental review beyond that conducted for the General Plan EIR, except as necessary to examine whether there are project-specific significant effects that may be peculiar to the project or its site. The Initial Study/CEQA Checklist provides analysis that supports a determination that the project would not result in new or more severe significant environmental effects than were previously addressed in the prior Mill Valley 2040 General Plan EIR, and that the project will not have any project-specific significant effects that are peculiar to the project or its site.

Unless the Mill Valley Planning Commission and/or the Mill Valley City Council disagree, the Initial Study/CEQA Checklist is the most appropriate approach for CEQA documentation of the Project. It fully analyzes the environmental impacts of the project and provides substantial evidence to support a conclusion that the Project is exempt from CEQA under CEQA Guidelines Sections 15332, and is eligible for CEQA streamlining provisions under CEQA Guidelines Section 15183. If the Mill Valley Planning Commission and/or the Mill Valley City Council disagrees, that circumstance would trigger preparation of a Mitigated Negative Declaration or an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project.

Has the City conducted a traffic study for the Project?

Yes, a detailed Traffic Operations Study for the project has been conducted, but it is not included in the CEQA document for the reasons explained below.

In 2013, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 743, which added Public Resources Code Section 21099 to CEQA and changed the way that transportation impacts are analyzed under CEQA. These changes were intended to better align local environmental review with statewide objectives to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, encourage infill mixed-use development in designated priority development areas, reduce regional sprawl development, and reduce vehicle miles traveled in California. Senate Bill 743 states that, “VMT is a more appropriate measure than automobile delay, and that automobile delay as measured by intersection level of service is not an impact on the environment”. Consistent with SB 743, the latest CEQA Guidelines from the State Office of Planning and Research (OPR) published in December 2018 require the use of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and prohibit the use of level of service (LOS) or other congestion-based metrics in CEQA documents after July 2020. Accordingly, the CEQA Checklist/Initial Study does not include a transportation analysis that measures traffic congestion on the roadway, level of service at intersection, travel delay, queue length or any other metric based on a level of service standard for measuring the transportation effects of the Project. Rather, a comprehensive VMT analysis was prepared for the project and forms the basis for determining traffic impacts under CEQA.  

Nevertheless, the City did commission a separate report, the Traffic Operations Study for the Blithedale Project (prepared by W-Trans, September 14, 2022) to address General Plan policy matters related to traffic operations. This separate Traffic Operations study presents an analysis of the potential traffic-related effects that could be anticipated with development of the project and was completed in accordance with the criteria established in the Mill Valley General Plan. The purpose of the Transportation Operations study is to provide City staff, policy makers and the public with data regarding the project’s adherence to city policies. Vehicular traffic service levels at key intersections are evaluated for consistency with General Plan policies by determining the number of new trips that the proposed project would be expected to generate, distributing these trips to the surrounding street system based on anticipated travel patterns specific to the proposed project, then analyzing the effect the new traffic would be expected to have on the study intersections and need for improvements to maintain acceptable operation. Adequacy of parking is also addressed as a policy issue.

Click here to review the Traffic Operations Study for the project.  

What is the Housing Accountability Act (HAA), SB 330 and the State Density Bonus Law?

The Housing Accountability Act (HAA), Government Code section 65589.5, establishes limitations to a local government’s ability to deny, reduce the density of, or make infeasible housing development projects, emergency shelters, or farmworker housing that are consistent with objective local development standards and contribute to meeting housing need. The Legislature first enacted the HAA in 1982 and recently amended the HAA to expand and strengthen its provisions as part of the overall recognition of the critically low volumes of housing in California. In amending the HAA, the Legislature made repeated findings that the lack of housing and the lack of affordable housing, is a critical problem that threatens the economic, environmental, and social quality of life in California. More information on the HAA can be found here.

SB 330 limited the ability of cities and counties to reduce the permitted density on property designated for residential uses absent a concurrent density increase on other property, prohibited cities from enforcing caps on housing development, streamlined the review of certain entitlements for housing projects, allowed for vesting of city and county land use policies and fees for housing projects, limited the number of hearings concerning certain housing projects, and required replacement of certain “protected units.” The text of SB 330 (Government Code Section 65589.5) can be found here.

The Density Bonus Law (found in California Government Code Sections 65915 – 65918) provides developers with tools to encourage the development of affordable and senior housing, including up to a 50% increase in project densities for most projects, depending on the amount of affordable housing provided. The Density Bonus is a state mandate. A developer who meets the requirements of the state law is entitled to receive the density bonus and other benefits as a matter of right. As with any State mandate, some local governments will resist complying with the State requirement. But many local governments favor the density bonus as a helpful tool to encourage continued diversity of housing, income levels and lifestyles within their communities.

Why has the project name changed from “Blithedale Terrace” to “Richardson Terrace”?

The City already has a street and subdivision called Blithedale Terrace, and members of this neighborhood requested that the new project go by a different name.

More Information:

Email or schedule a meeting with the project contact, Sean Kennings, Contract Planner, sean@lakassociates.com, or view items online: Richardson Terrace / 575 E. Blithdale Project Page

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