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Despite Design Changes, Neighbors Still Fret Over Proposed Apartment Building

After several design changes, some neighbors are still worried that the proposed apartment complex near the Elks Lodge will clash with the neighborhood.

After developers made design changes to the initial plan for a proposed 67-unit apartment complex near the Elks Lodge, some San Rafael neighbors are still concerned about traffic in the area and the appearance of the new building.

Architects working with the development agency Thompson/Dorfman Partners changed the design to make the new building look less contemporary after neighbors complained in an April meeting that the structure would clash with the neighboring , and.

“We decided on totally changing the style than what we originally envisioned, and now we are trying to make the building more historically compatible than before,” the project’s architect Jill Williams said.

The complex, approximately 70,000 square feet, now includes more ornate balcony railings, cornices lining the top of the building, bay windows and shingles. The new design also features a sky deck, outdoor gathering spots for residents and two levels of parking.

Since the L-shaped building will be constructed on the parking lot behind the Elks Lodge, the planners will add 66 replacement parking spaces to the front of the property for visitors. They will also be widening the main entrance to the Elks Lodge, adding a driveway with a sidewalk and new landscaping for Mission Street.

During a neighborhood meeting with San Rafael neighbors on May 25, Thompson/Dorfman representative Kevin Bloom showed digital simulations of the building from different vantage points in San Rafael.

“We’re in the bottom of a bowl with hills on three sides,” he said. “So it doesn’t stick out too much.”

The building is between 45 feet and 54 feet tall, according to Bloom.

Tom Untermann lives off of El Cerrito Avenue, and his house looks down on the Elks Lodge. Despite the digital simulations, Untermann is skeptical that the building will be hidden in the hillsides.

“I don’t want to see it, as beautiful as it may be,” he said.

Untermann also worries about traffic backing up near the main entrance of the Elks Lodge, especially during rush hour and street closures like the Thursday Farmers Market on Fourth Street.

“You’re going to tell me with the added cars from residents that there will be no impact,” he said during the meeting.

The project was originally submitted in 2009, when the Design Review Board raised questions about the traffic and appearance of the structure.

“Over the past several years we’ve taken those concerns seriously,” Bloom said. “In this current proposal, we’ve responded to those concerns.”

Still, Bloom insists that Thompson/Dorfman will continue to work with the residents and the city’s planners to make sure the building blends with the neighborhood.

“There is a significant need for housing in this area and 10 percent of the homes in this building will be for low-income families,” he said. “On top of that, it will generate around $1.5 million in fees to the city and school districts and provide around 500 construction jobs.”

The next stop for the project will be the Design Review Board, then the Planning Commission and eventually the City Council.

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