CA: Majority of Speakers at Meeting on Larkspur SMART Station Area Plan Against Plan

May 23--Marin residents have a catalog of concerns about a draft plan to concentrate future housing and business development near the proposed Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit station in Larkspur, but most agree additional traffic congestion is a major issue.

More than 500 people gathered Thursday night at Hall Middle School in Larkspur to give feedback to the Larkspur City Council and Planning Commission on the draft environmental impact report for the SMART Station Area Plan. A majority of the attendees wore bright red "Marin Against Density" shirts and held "Reject the EIR" signs.

Before members of the public were called upon to share their concerns about the draft environmental impact report, members of the City Council addressed the audience as did Marin County Supervisor Katie Rice. Mayor Ann Morrison and Planning Commissioners Richard Young and Mark Sandoval were unable to attend the public hearing.

City Councilman Dan Hillmer said the draft report has problems and under-reports existing traffic congestion issues.

"I agree with the public perception the draft EIR as well as Plan Bay Area are fundamentally flawed," Hillmer said. "Until traffic from the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge is off of Sir Francis Drake, there are no logical reasons to review the draft EIR plan's recommendations."

City Councilwoman Catherine Way said she has no preconceived notions of the plan, as it's her job to listen to all viewpoints and opinions. However, she said traffic is a concern.

"Before anything is done, we must find real solutions to traffic and parking in this corridor," Way said.

Traffic congestion was also the focus for Rice, who said future growth should not be contemplated in the area until there's a plan to deal with existing and future traffic. She said the planning process is an opportunity to create better sidewalks, crosswalks and multi-modal facilities.

"The EIR is an opportunity with this planning process to do something very good for Larkspur," Rice said.

Larkspur received $480,000 from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments in 2011 to create the plan, which is meant to increase transit ridership, increase affordable housing and jobs near transit, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Matching funds of $120,000 were provided by the city and partner agencies such as the Transportation Authority of Marin to create the plan.

It identifies seven possible sites for development in the station area, which encompasses about a half-mile radius around the proposed SMART station near Highway 101 and Marin Country Mart. Potential development includes 77,500 square feet of retail space, 60,000 square feet of hotel space, 39,500 square feet of office space and up to 920 dwelling units.

Three alternatives to the plan are identified in the draft environmental impact report. Besides the no-project option, the second alternative proposes not developing the Larkspur Ferry Terminal site. This alternative eliminates 2,500 square feet of retail space and 300 dwelling units from the proposal. The third alternative proposes developing residences at a density of 20 units per acre. This alternative eliminates 2,500 square feet of retail space and 360 dwelling units from the original proposal.

A majority of those who spoke during public comment expressed a desire to see the no-project option move forward, citing concerns about traffic, high density housing, a lack of water for more development and the inability of local schools to handle more students.

Barbara Salzman, president of Marin Audubon Society, said there are a lot of deficiencies in the draft environmental impact report.

"There are endangered species clearly known. They apparently didn't look into it in the marshes adjacent to the project," Salzman said.

Attorney Ed Yates, who has been hired by the nonprofit Community Venture Partners formed by former low-income housing developer and plan critic Bob Silvestri, said the report is lacking.

"The project objectives are narrow and contrary," Yates said. "You really have to go back to the drawing board."

Larkspur resident Julie Leitzell, of Larkspur Fights Back, said more than 3,500 people have signed an online petition against the Larkspur SMART Station Area Plan.

Corte Madera resident David Kunhardt, a member of the newly-formed Coalition for a Livable Marin, said he wants to congratulate the city for planning ahead. He said growth has been rapid in the Bay Area during the last year and there's a limited supply of housing.

Kunhardt said the draft environmental impact report could be used to connect sidewalks and bicycle lanes from the SMART station to the ferry.

"It's clear the City Council is not in favor of most of the development sites and that's fine. The question is, can we nevertheless use the opportunity in favor of transportation improvements, in favor of creating a transportation demand management program."

People can comment on the draft Larkspur SMART Station Area Plan's environmental impact report through June 2. Comments for its accompanying draft plan will be accepted beyond that date.

City Planning and Building Director Neal Toft said more hearings will be held at the Planning Commission level in mid-July.

"We're at the very beginning of the public process. No decisions have been made," Toft said.

Contact Megan Hansen via email at mhansen@marinij.com or via Twitter at http://twitter.com/hansenmegan. Follow her blog at http://blogs.marinij.com/bureaucratsandbaking.

Copyright 2014 - The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.

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