CA: Residents Cheer City Council's Decision to Discontinue Larkspur SMART Station Area Plan

June 19--In what members of the public called a historic move, the Larkspur City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to discontinue a plan that would have concentrated future housing and business development near the proposed Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit station in Larkspur.

City Council members held a workshop at Hall Middle School in Larkspur to discuss the draft environmental impact report for the SMART Station Area Plan and the draft plan itself. About 325 people attended the meeting, many dressed in bright red Marin Against Density shirts. After a short presentation by city staff, which revealed people submitted nearly 1,000 comments to the city about the draft environmental impact report, the City Council members expressed their opinions.

"I have heard enough. I am resolved and will cast my vote to stop the process," said Mayor Ann Morrison. "We need to bring improvements to Larkspur Landing to a local level. We need to improve our parking, bike paths, walking paths and parks."

Her fellow council members concurred. Councilman Kevin Haroff said the draft environmental impact report is flawed.

"I want folks to know that my views on this just aren't a function of getting a lot of emails. I spent a lot of time reading the documents. I have some real problems with the documents as they've been prepared," Haroff said.

Before pausing to take public comment, the council voted unanimously to stop the Station Area Plan process. As part of its vote, the council directed staff and the Citizens Advisory Committee for the General Plan Update to review the plan and see if any of its concepts are useful, such as suggestions for bicycle and pedestrian improvements.

Except for a handful of speakers, everyone who addressed the council during public comment commended its members for trashing the plan and thanked them for listening to the community's concerns.

Peter Singleton, of Larkspur, was the first to thank the council.

"What the council has done here is historic," Singleton said.

Peter Hensel, of Corte Madera, agreed.

"I'm really impressed with the council," Hensel said. "My mind is kind of blown, in a good way."

The rejected plan was created after Larkspur received $480,000 from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments in 2011 to create the plan, which was 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 finish the plan.

It identified 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 included 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.

Besides simply rejecting the plan, the draft documents identified two alternatives that got little attention at public meetings. One alternative proposed not developing the Larkspur Ferry Terminal site, effectively eliminating 2,500 square feet of retail space and 300 dwelling units. The other alternative proposed developing residences at a density of 20 units per acre. This alternative eliminated 2,500 square feet of retail space and 360 dwelling units from the original proposal.

During the meeting, Councilwoman Catherine Way asked if Larkspur could be at a disadvantage when seeking future transportation project funding because of the council's decision to stop the Station Area Plan.

City Manager Dan Schwarz said he believes the city will be OK, but that it's possible funding agencies could hold a grudge.

"In any walk of life, whether public or private sector, if you don't fulfill the terms of a project, you remember that," Schwarz said. "That said, a lot of the money that flows to Larkspur from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission flows through the Transportation Authority of Marin."

Amid much rejoicing by audience members, some speakers said the battle has just begun.

Pam Drew, of Novato, said organizations like the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments will continue to try and shove projects on Marin County. She said the Station Area Plan should have been stopped long ago.

"You need to examine yourselves as to why you ever should have gotten this far in the process," Drew said. "You should be identifying which staff members pushed you into this."

Councilman Dan Hillmer agreed the Plan Bay Area process, a transportation and housing strategy for the Bay Area, isn't over. He said the county needs to work with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments to make sure the community's concerns are addressed.

"Marin should organize a caucus big enough so they hear us," Hillmer said.

Follow Megan Hansen's blog at http://blogs.marinij.com/bureaucratsandbaking.

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

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