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Marinwood tract proposed for 125-home venture

A crew clears debris after the demolition of a portion of the Marinwood Plaza Shopping Center in San Rafael on Tuesday, June 21, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)

A company associated with a billionaire real estate investor has submitted a preliminary application to build a 125-residence complex at Marinwood Plaza.

The application to develop 155 Marinwood Ave. was filed by Impact Residential Development of Atlanta, Georgia. The company “is funded by the private family office of Barry Sternlicht, the CEO and founder of Starwood Capital Group,” according to its website.

An investor in real estate around the world, Starwood has offices in more than 20 countries and over $125 billion of assets under management, the site states. San Rafael resident Jack Robertson of Tableau Development Co., a former San Rafael planning commissioner, said he is representing the applicant.

“I’m excited to be working with the Impact team on this important and well-located development serving working families in the county,” he said.

“We know that some in the Marinwood area may be concerned by this application, but the county’s role is to create affordable housing that supports health and safety, while being sensitive to environmental and community resources and the views of residents,” said Sarah Jones, director of the Marin County Community Development Agency. “We’ll seek to meet those in evaluating this project.”

The county’s housing element has the site zoned for 125 dwellings. Jones said an online public workshop will be held to present details about the project, but she added that the project could receive final approval within 120 days.

In the application, the developer states it expects to begin construction in the third or fourth quarter of 2025. The company estimates it will take 18 months to build.

A previous bid to develop 82 dwellings at the site in the early 2010s fizzled out after being met with stiff community opposition. At that time, Bridge Housing was proposing 72 low-income apartments and 10 market-rate apartments at the site.

Impact Residential Development plans to make all but one of the 125 rentals affordable. One market-rate residence will be occupied by a manager.

Fourteen of the dwellings will be priced to be affordable to households earning 30% of Marin’s area median income, or AMI. That translates to individuals earning no more than $41,150 and four-person households with incomes no greater than $52,900.

Forty-nine of the residences will be priced to be affordable to households earning 50% of Marin’s AMI. That equates to individuals earning no more than $68,550 and four-person households with incomes no greater than $97,900.

Sixty-one will be priced to be affordable to households earning 70% of Marin AMI. That means individuals earning no more than $109,700 and four-person households with incomes no greater than $156,650.

The complex will be a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom residences.

“By adding affordable housing in a location near services and amenities, this proposed development will use resources efficiently, and helps to meet our commitment to fair housing and addresses disparities that have occurred from past housing decisions,” Jones said. “It will be a great opportunity for some of Marin’s workforce to live near their jobs.”

The site occupies four parcels totaling about 5 acres at the corner of Marinwood Avenue and Miller Creek Road in unincorporated San Rafael. The proposal calls for the construction of four, three-story buildings with a peak height of 39 feet, 3 inches. The 125,481-square-foot project also includes 1,040 square feet of retail space to accommodate a cafe.

All but 15,000 square feet of the shopping center was demolished in 2022. The remaining space is occupied by the Marinwood Market. The developer has indicated the market will be retained as part of the development.

In 2013, the Hoytt family, which owned and operated the shopping center via Marinwood Plaza LLC, was sued by its across-the-freeway neighbor, Catholic Charities, which accused various operators of a former dry cleaning business at the shopping center of releasing polycarboxylate ethers into the soil under one of the buildings.

Pollution at Marinwood Plaza was first discovered in 2007, and the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board has been overseeing investigations and remedial actions there since 2008.

In its application, the development company states, “If active vapor intrusion mitigation systems (VIMS) are needed below future buildings, there will be air emissions of vapors containing volatile organic compounds.”

“If needed, the VIMS would exhaust subsurface vapors through a treatment system pursuant to Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) permit and applicable conditions,” the application states. “Monitoring would be conducted to confirm that vapor emissions meet BAAQMD requirements and do not pose any unacceptable threat to human health.”

Access to the site would be via three car entrances from Marinwood Avenue. The project would provide 124 residential parking spaces and 65 commercial spaces.

The developer has indicated it intends to use state density bonus law to obtain waivers and concessions from the county’s form-based code. Sites zoned for development in Marin’s housing element are approved ministerially. The only criteria they must meet is the county’s new form-based code, which aims to induce developers to build more smaller structures instead of fewer larger buildings.

Exemptions from even this requirement, however, are available under state density bonus law if developers’ projects meet certain affordability criteria.

“We can only decline a waiver based on a defined health or safety concern,” Jones said.

The developer is seeking waivers and concessions to avoid subdividing the project into blocks no longer than 400 feet or 1,600 feet in perimeter, using two different architectural styles and providing 10% public open space. The company indicated conforming to these requirements would result in reduced density.

Marinwood resident Stephen Nestel, a fierce opponent of the previous Bridge Housing proposal, said the project would be “at least four times as dense as the surrounding area and has reduced parking requirements.”

“This means more traffic, strain on our schools, government services and infrastructure,” he said. “If the development is owned by a nonprofit, the tax burden will be shifted to the community including those who earn less than the low-income residents receiving the subsidized housing.”

“Lastly,” Nestel added, “the toxic waste issue is still a concern and will take years to resolve to be safe enough for residential buildings. Commercial use is the sensible option for the community.”

Former supervisor Susan Adams, who championed the Bridge Housing proposal, paid a high price, prompting a group of residents to try to gather a sufficient number of signatures to mount a recall effort. Adams was ultimately defeated in June 2014 by Damon Connolly, who at the time questioned the size and scale of the proposal, its consistency with community planning efforts, environmental impacts and impacts on school and agency finances.

“We went through a couple of years of community-based planning and input from the community, and there were a few people that just didn’t want any affordable housing in the community,” said Adams, who is retired and living in Sacramento. “There were loud voices that I think instilled a lot of fear into people about what affordable housing is.”

Adams said the housing is likely to be occupied by teachers, social workers and other service workers.

“Why wouldn’t you want the people that are serving your community to be able to also live in your community?” she said.

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