Mill Valley approves affordable housing project

Posted on: February 8, 2024

Source: Marin Independent Journal; Author: Krissy Waite

The city-owned property at 1 Hamilton Drive in Mill Valley has been identified as a site for a complex of affordable apartments. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

Mill Valley has approved an 100% affordable housing development for the first time in three decades.

The City Council unanimously approved four resolutions on Monday aimed at pushing the project — called Bayfront Terraces — past the finish line. The resolutions, all bundled into one vote, included rezoning the site as well as approving the final environmental report, the design review and tree removal permits, and a ground lease with the development partner.

The city, the primary applicant, is working with EAH Housing, a San Rafael-based nonprofit and developer, to turn 1.75 acres of the 13-acre city-owned property at 1 Hamilton Drive into a four-story, podium-style building with 44 one-, two- and three-bedroom units that are 100% affordable.

It includes a parking garage with 63 residential parking spaces and an outdoor courtyard facing Hamilton Drive and Hauke Park. EAH Housing will manage the Bayfront Terraces development once it is operational. One unit will be reserved for an on-site manager.

“It’s been a long road to arrive here today,” said Bianca Neumann, director of development for the nonprofit. “This will be, if it moves forward this evening, the first 100% affordable housing project in Mill Valley in 30 years and that’s a big deal and something we should be proud of.”

The units are deed restricted for very-low- and low-income renters making around $40,000 to $130,000 or less a year, depending on household size, with monthly rents ranging from $978 to $2,908 per month.

Part of the approval required changing the zoning of the site from an open area zone to a multifamily residential bayfront zone to allow for the housing development and the density.

Council members also certified the project’s environmental impact report, which stated the project could have potentially significant impacts on air quality. One concern included asbestos dust from serpentine on the site.

All impacts can be mitigated to “less than significant” using measures such as dust control and daily air quality monitoring, according to city staff. Additionally, surveys for special status plants and animals were completed and experts found none on the site.

The project also includes updating and reconfiguring the public safety building and public parking lots next door to the site, which will result in an overall increase in public parking spaces — to 48 spaces total.

Urban Carmel, mayor of the city, said that while this project has been in the works for several years, affordable housing in Mill Valley has a much longer timeline dating back to the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, when the city was building affordable housing frequently. Land and finances became scarce, making housing harder to develop.

Carmel said it began to change about 10 years ago when two people — Jessica Jackson and John McCauley — ran for council and named affordable housing as a priority. Since then, the city has held summits, built up funds and created a housing advisory committee to work on the issue.

“That just tells you the kind of timeframes that are involved in trying to get a project like this done,” Carmel said. “It’s really, really time consuming.”

Public opinions on the project were mixed. At the Nov. 29 Planning Commission meeting, many expressed concerns about impacts to parking, views, Hawke Park and traffic. Many showed up to the City Council meeting to express their support for the housing project.

Marta Villela of Mill Valley, representing the Marin Organizing Committee, said she is excited to see the project move forward because it will guarantee affordable housing and resources to people in an ideal location.

“Thank for working hard on this project that we know will offer affordable and accessible housing to people who really need it in our county, those who will benefit from living in an area where their children will only have to cross the street to get to Hauke Park and play there, or maybe walking to the school or the parents going to the nearest pharmacy or grocery stores,” Villela said.

However not all in attendance were in agreement. Paula McGrath of Mill Valley questioned the financial feasibility of the project, and asked if the project could be done with closer to 30 units. She asked the City Council to slow down and review the financial data before approving the project.

“The city has a fiduciary responsibility to all its constituents including those in our neighborhood who would be unfairly burdened by the project as currently designed,” McGrath said.

Neumann said the number of units is needed to cover operational costs of the building.

The building is 100% electric with solar panels, drought resistant native landscaping and energy efficient compliances, according to Rick Williams, an architect at the design firm for the project, Van Meter Williams Pollack.

Sarah Turner of Mill Valley said she supports the building because it is a great example of environmentally sustainable development. She added that she lives across the march from the project and thought the location was not only beautiful, but also accessible to public transit and city-provided resources.

“I will be the first to say that I am just delighted that we in Mill Valley are willing to share a prime spot, a beautiful spot, with people that need affordable housing,” Turner said. “We’re not putting them in a place with noise or by a highway or with contamination, as many affordable housing development goes, so I’m very proud of us in Mill Valley for sharing that beautiful location.”

Councilmember Jim Wickman said the site is a multibillion dollar property.

Carmel said 100% affordable housing is essential to diversifying the community and reducing the “segregation” in Mill Valley. He said the project’s approval is only the beginning of a long process to bring housing to the city.

“It’s an understatement to say that this is truly a historic moment,” Carmel said. “Nothing can change a life trajectory more than the place you grew up in.”

Danielle Staude, senior planner for the city, said construction is set to begin between 2026 and 2027. The complex is expected to be fully operational by 2028.

Read the full article here.

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