General Plan Panel Says No to Affordable Housing at Safeway Site

After Safeway’s request and the revelation that the Redwoods plans to build nearly 50 units of low-income housing, city officials back off plan to give incentives to grocery conglomerate to build housing.

There won’t be any affordable housing built on the site of Safeway at 1 Camino Alto – but there are nearly 50 units of new low-income housing planned for right across the street from it at the Redwoods senior facility.

That’s the latest from the city’s General Plan Advisory Committee  (GPAC), which met Tuesday night and is in the midst of updating the city’s General Plan, a local constitution of sorts, for the first time since 1989. The update includes an overhaul of the city’s Housing Element, which outlines policies for residential development.

The committee considered including the Safeway site, which could accommodate up to 41 additional housing units, within an “affordable housing overlay” area that would provide developers with incentives to build low-income housing.

But that plan sparked backlash from those who oppose large-scale development in the Safeway shopping center at one of the main entrances to town. A meeting between the city’s Housing Element consultants and Redwoods CEO Barbara Solomon provided a way to avoid the controversy.

City officials initially though that 20 of the Redwoods’ 49 planned units would be for low-income residents. But Solomon told the consultants that the facility, which currently includes 150 apartments, 60 of which are subsidized and affordable to low-income seniors, intends to make all of the planned new units affordable to low-income residents.

Redwoods COO Susan Badger confirmed that all 49 units are expected to be affordable for low-income seniors. She said the development is in the early planning stages.

In a memo to the committee last week, consultant Geoff Bradley of Metropolitan Planning Group told the committee, “Given this information, in combination with strong concerns from community members about the Safeway site. We are recommending that the Safeway site be removed from consideration as an affordable housing overlay site.”

The committee quickly backed the recommendation Tuesday night.

“The Safeway site and the (affordable housing) overlay are lightning rods and there’s no need to have lightning strike in this process,” said Mayor and GPAC chair Andy Berman. “We don’t need it.”

GPAC member and former Mayor Dennis Fisco agreed.

“Frankly it’s a red herring that’s going to take a very well written housing plan and has the potential to make it very controversial,” Fisco said. “I can’t think of a good reason or any reason to keep it in there – it’s an entry point to Mill Valley.”

Elizabeth Moody, a Redwoods resident and longtime affordable housing advocate, asked the committee to reconsider.

“It is one of the larger sites that could accommodate housing as well as an enlarged Safeway,” she said.

The Safeway site and the 41 housing units it could accommodate are still included in the city’s housing capacity analysis, the portion of the draft Housing Element that identifies sites where new housing could go, considering both residential parcels where new housing could be built, as well as commercially zoned parcels where residential units are allowed under current zoning. Out of the 393 units identified, the Safeway site is the largest potential development with 41 possible units, and only eight sites could accommodate 10 or more units.

Safeway officials previously said the company has no immediate plans to redevelop the site. In a letter to City Hall and the GPAC sent Monday, the company's attorney Matthew Francois wrote, “While Safeway supports the city’s laudable goals of ensuring sufficient housing for its current and future residents, Safeway has no plans to redevelop the site with housing units.”

Francois also asked that any future city policies do not inhibit Safeway’s “ability to expand and/or renovate the store in the future,” and that the site’s inclusion on the housing inventory list “does not mandate the provision of housing in connection with any future development proposal.”

The 36,870-square-foot Safeway store was built in 1975 and underwent an extensive renovation in 2005.

The "Residential Capacity Analysis" (attached at right) hopes to identify enough possible sites for new housing to show the state’s Department of Community Housing and Development that the city can achieve its Regional Housing Needs Allocation. That allocation is doled out by the Association of Bay Area Governments, the regional agency charged with allocating state housing mandates to counties, towns and cities and one of the agencies charged with distributing state transportation grant funding.

In a draft report earlier this year, the agency allocated 292 new households to Mill Valley for the period of 2009-2014, and 129 for the period 2014-2022 (report attached at right). The undeveloped sites identified for the first period can carry over to the second period, according to Planning Director Mike Moore.

Through the state-mandated Sustainable Communities Strategy, which stretches through 2040, an earlier ABAG report allocated 750 new households to Mill Valley, and that was reduced to 450 in July

City officials have lobbied ABAG to lower those numbers even more.

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Rico January 17, 2013 at 07:09 PM
Laura, That was beautiful, thanks so much. I never understood how ABAG and their developer buddies can get away with proposals knowing what we know now about wetlands and flood planes. Fifty years ago, no problem, fill it, trash it and build it was the motto of the day for developers and city planning commissions, but those days are long gone (thank goodness).
Rebecca Chapman January 17, 2013 at 10:23 PM
holey moley! i don't even know where to begin. this is a tough topic, but more bad planning never seems like a good solution to me. i just walked through downtown mill valley, only to observe the 'suits' all standing around at some sort of chamber of commerce mixer at one end of town (the parking lot of bungalow 44), whilst the deadheads with their backpacks & portable chairs have briefly taken over the city hall & mill valley market parking lot(s) area, eagerly awaiting another 'further' show. i guess on a sunny day like today, it feels like we can all get along, however briefly. but, what about when it's cold & raining? how many more of us 'precariously housed' have to rely on the laundromats &/or libraries in order to get our most basic of needs met???
Janis Bosenko January 18, 2013 at 02:59 AM
City and County planning folks are pulling out their hair "how to accommodate the affordable housing requirements". Yet, the City, and mostly the County in the unincorporated parts of Mill Valley area, are allowing people to buy older, smaller, charming cottages (at the low end of the market) in sweet, charming neighborhoods, and virtually tear them down and replace the modest more affordable cottages with overbuilt, overbearing pretentious mega mansions. Don't they see this diminishes the existing more affordable end of the housing market? Often destroying houses that also have in-law units (legal or not) that have been rented by service workers, etc. How can local governments allow this to continue, destroying our lovely neighborhoods and allow the "Blackhawk effect" in Homestead Valley, Alto and other areas in the greater Mill Valley. Want to see the current boil on Mill Valley's butt, drive by 69 Shell Road.
Janis Bosenko January 18, 2013 at 07:21 PM
Government officials, planning departments, housing advocates and citizens are talking about "affordable housing" and how can we meet target goals, etc. All the time what they mean is BUILDING more affordable housing. No one is addressing the issue of the affordable end of housing market that is being diminished at an alarming rate in Marin, especially in the unincorporated parts of Mill Valley. Smaller, older, modest homes in established neighborhoods are being purchased and then torn down or demolished to the level allowed to be called a "remodel". What replaces these homes that could be the starter home for young couples, are huge, pretentious houses, overbuilt for the neighborhood. They loom over the smaller, charming cottages and bungalows, shading the gardens and, in our case, the solar panels on our roof. Allowing this practice to continue destroys the charm of the very neighborhoods that make Mill Valley a special place and decreases the existing affordable housing units. At the rate we losing these smaller homes, we will never catch up with the affordable housing target.
Janis Bosenko January 18, 2013 at 07:22 PM
Why are my comments being rejected?


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