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A large new development proposed for the area of Miller Avenue and La Goma Street was once again lambasted by scores of residents at Monday night's Mill Valley Planning Commission hearing.
The project proposed by developer Jonathan Parker would build 17 new residential units and 4,100 square feet of commercial space on a nearly 1-acre site at 363 Miller Ave. and 5, 15 and 19 La Goma St.
Ten of those residences would be situated atop the retail space in a mixed-use building, while the remaining residences would consist of three duplexes and a two-story single-family home. Three of the 17 units would qualify as "affordable."
Shortly after the meeting broke the five-hour mark, the commission decided to continue the hearing to a later date, requesting a number of significant changes to the proposal in the meantime.
Dozens of residents turned out to speak on the project, with comments ranging from nuanced critiques to outright condemnation of the plans. In response to Parker's claim that the project would be a sterling example of "smart infill" characterized by proximity to transit, walkability and the use of existing civil infrastructure, many residents insisted the developer was overreaching.
"I'd love to see some housing in the area, but I still think the proposed numbers are too high for the realities of the area," said Karen Serlin, who lives near the property.
Dave LaDuke, who also lives behind the site and who previously gathered 550 signatures on a petition calling for a full environment impact report on the project, agreed. "Smart infill would be great - it would really improve the area," he said. "But I think we're trying to shoehorn too much in."
The project has been through a number of different incarnations since Parker first proposed a three-story 20-unit development in April 2005. After the city requested changes, Parker came back with a new proposal in September 2006. The Planning Commission critiqued the design's architecture in January 2007, and the developer was hoping for final approval this week.
"The project has evolved a considerable degree and is a much improved project," Parker told the commission. "The Miller La Goma project is a textbook example of smart infill and sustainable development."
Due to a ceramics studio that formerly occupied a small shed on the property, lead contamination in the soil will have to be removed or capped before construction can proceed.
"It's simply a question of removing the dirt," Parker said. "It's not a complex process."
Nonetheless, several residents openly worried about the extent of the contamination and the possible exposure risks associated with removing the soil laced with lead dust."
The most common criticisms of the project leveled by residents, however, had to do with traffic, parking and the size of the development.
The project initially included two driveways, one on Miller and one on La Goma. The commission requested the removal of the Miller driveway entirely, citing concerns over pedestrian safety and the proximity of the bustling Miller-La Goma intersection.
Planning Chair Chuck Utzman, worrying about the tendency of cars to quickly accelerate out of the intersection, said drivers are "not used to having a whole stream of traffic entering 100 feet down the street." Commissioners requested that vehicles access the development exclusively from La Goma, where the driveway would be angled to prevent cars from turning left into the La Goma neighborhood rather than toward the Miller intersection.
The commission also asked the developer to find a way to include at least 35 parking spaces, up from the 31 he proposed.
While the commissioners agreed the mixed-use building was a good idea, they requested the removal of one of the townhome units adjacent to Marin Auto Works.
The two architects on the commission also asked for a number of aesthetic changes, agreeing that the design was overembellished for the area. The mixed-use building lost its four parapets, and commissioners asked for smaller, sparer designs on the remaining units. The mixed-use building and duplexes were deemed too tall as well, and were lowered a foot from their proposed 28.5-foot peak height.
Despite what Utzman called the "overheated rhetoric" of some of the letters of opposition, the chair said he was pleased with the public's involvement Monday evening. "There are a lot of people paying attention, there were a lot of good comments and it was all done in the spirit of civility," he said.
No word yet when the project will be back before the commission, but even if the reworked plans past muster, the La Goma saga will likely stretch on. "I think it's ultimately going to be appealed," Utzman said. "That's just my guess."