We appreciate it that Dick Spotswood is the ONLY journalist in the Bay Area who will write the truth about Plan Bay Area. Thank you, Dick.
DICK SPOTSWOOD * THE SUNDAY MARIN INDEPENDENT JOURNAL
A column on government and politics published Sunday, August 4, 2013 #467
© A copyright of The Marin Independent Journal.
HIGH DENSITY DEVELOPMENT: REAL BENEFITS OR SPIN?
NOW that the fractious debate over Plan Bay Area is over, Marinites might want to see what true high-density housing looks like.
All they need to do is drive to Corte Madera. Two minutes off Highway 101, at the corner of Tamal Vista Boulevard and Wornum Drive, the curious can see for themselves.
Once completed in early 2014, the 180-unit four-story apartment complex at 195 Tamal Vista presents a fine opportunity to learn if high-density, supposedly transit-oriented development delivers the environmental and social benefits promised by its advocates.
This San Jose-style massive apartment block on the site of the old WinCup plant has both good and bad aspects.
Built by big-time developer MacFarlane Partners, the looming structure consists of 162 market-rate apartments and only 18 units for lower-income residents. MacFarlane's business plan calls for "high-density, urban-style living."
Plan Bay Area is all about construction of high-density housing near transit corridors. This project, approved before the plan was adopted, provides an example of what's encouraged.
Tamal Vista is immediately adjacent to a transit corridor, Highway 101 and the north-south bikeway.
There's no question that it's high density at 40 units per acre.
Corte Madera, a town inaccurately criticized for dragging its feet when it comes to building housing, delivers big time.
Further, it's in a mostly commercial area where massive construction doesn't degrade single-family home neighborhoods. It replaces a factory that employed a hundred workers who often commuted from out of the county.
The project is privately owned, so it pays property taxes for schools, police and fire.
What's wrong, other than a massive design wholly inappropriate for Central Marin?
The connection to transit is illusory. The seven-minute walk to the scruffy freeway bus pad is useful if potential residents work in San Francisco's Financial District, Golden Gate Transit's destination.
The reality is that the old Financial District isn't the job magnet it was 25 years ago.
It's a 20-minute walk from Tamal Vista to Larkspur's Ferry Terminal. Few daily commuters will make that trek. They could drive, except the ferry's parking lot is jammed.
The 10-minute walk to the Town Center shopping mall hardly makes this "urban style" living. Most residents will drive to Safeway, not walk.
That 195 Tamal Vista has only 18 affordable apartments makes a mockery of what high-density new urbanism is supposedly about. There's little need in Marin for more market-rate housing.
What's wanted are homes for working folks whose jobs are already in Marin.
This project does little to deliver them.
Once finished, 195 Tamal Vista will produce more traffic at an intersection that's already near capacity. Wornum Drive is where the Transportation Authority of Marin plans to locate a new freeway off-ramp, making an already bad situation worse.
Corte Madera had little choice but to approve the high-density project. The town was under pressure from the Association of Bay Area Governments and activists to build more housing.
This was one of the few sites where it made sense to build big.
This construction now makes an ideal test ground for the concept of high-density housing. Corte Madera should monitor what happens once 195 Tamal Vista opens.
Find out where the new residents work. Are their jobs located nearby or far away? How many apartment dwellers either use transit or instead drive to work, shop and play?
What's the project's real-world impact on local streets?
The results should disclose whether suburban high-density urban-style housing provides the environmental benefits that supporters claim or if it's just marketing hype from real estate developers.
OTHER THOUGHTS: "We hang petty thieves and appoint the great thieves to public office."
Write Dick Spotswood at firstname.lastname@example.org