Marin Independent Journal
January 30, 2022
By Giuseppe Ricapito

A Mill Valley-based developer has filed an application with the city to develop a 42-residence complex on the Belvedere Lagoon.

The proposal for Mallard Pointe is the first multifamily housing development in Belvedere in more than 30 years with affordable homes on the lagoon, said Bruce Dorfman, a partner with Thompson Dorfman Partners.

The development group purchased the property for just under $21 million in 2020. The application was submitted to the city Wednesday.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on the planning side of this,” Dorfman said. “At this stage in the game we’ve been involved in this for at least 18 months. We think we have a plan that checks a lot of boxes for the city, it works for the neighbors, it’s contextual. The architects on the project are well regarded. It’s going to be a wonderful addition for this community.”

The plan proposes the demolition of 22 market-rate residences at the 2.8-acre Mallard Pointe complex built in 1951. Dorfman said the group initially planned a full-scale renovation, but found that the magnitude of the problems — including deferred maintenance, antiquated floor plans and room size, nonconformance with current building and fire codes, and rising sea levels — prompted it to start from scratch.

The development would include 42 new residences, 12 defined as affordable and 50% or more below market rate. The plan includes five duplexes, six single-family homes and three apartments along the lagoon. The plan also calls for a 23-apartment, roughly 34-foot-tall complex behind it along Community Road.

The affordable residences include three “accessory dwelling units,” or ADUs; four deed-restricted apartments; and five “affordable by design” one-bedroom apartments, Dorfman said.

The property would offer two-, three- and four-bedroom multistory residences and one-, two- and three-bedroom flats.

Dorfman said the plan aligns with the city’s ethics and the desires of the community, but also offers access to potential residents who are priced out of the affluent community. The 66-acre private lagoon separating the city and Tiburon is managed by the Belvedere Lagoon Property Owners Association. The average rent at Mallard Pointe now is $6,000 per month and residents require an income of more than $200,000 to qualify.

Those eligible for affordable residences would fall below the median income brackets for the city, which for a family of four is about $150,000.

“We’re trying to be responsive to not just opposition, but also constructive comments we’ve received,” Dorfman said. “This is something that is dramatically different than anything they’ve ever dealt with over the last 20 years.”

The proposal has been met with opposition from a group called Belvedere Residents for Intelligent Growth, which has about 260 members, according to chair John Hansen.

In a letter to the city on Jan. 18, Hansen called for an environmental impact report, more information on the building footprint and elevation, including a scale model, and installation of architectural protections on the integrity of the Belvedere Lagoon.

The group argued the development poses adverse environmental impacts. It plans to submit further requests on the city regulatory process once the final proposal can be reviewed.

Hansen, in a text message, characterized the development as “profit-motivated” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

“It is primarily a plan to build and sell more multi-million dollar housing under the guise of affordability. In the meantime, the developer would be tearing down 22 units occupied by seniors and young families to accomplish what, exactly?” Hansen said.

In October, the group sent a letter to the City Council claiming the multifamily apartment component is impermissible under the site’s R-2 zoning classification. It further claimed that SB 8, a state housing bill, does not allow the city to streamline the development’s approval process.

Dorfman said state housing and density bonus laws allow developers to construct up to 80 residences there if they chose to.

“We’re not trying to max out this site. If we did we could, under state law, build twice the number of units we are proposing. Some housing advocates would push us in that direction. We think this is appropriate for this community,” he said.

City Manager Craig Middleton said the city has 30 days to review the proposal before returning it to the developers with a report on its completion and viability. An environmental review and public hearings come next.

Middleton said the city is challenged by limited available land, steep hills, bayside geography and few vacant parcels. Though the Mallard Pointe plan is helpful in developing more than 20 new units, Middleton said, it is not a “significant increase” in meeting a state requirement to show the city can build 160 residences between 2023 and 2030.

“We at least have to plan for it. And it has to be a realistic plan,” Middleton said. ”Affordable units, that’s where we really need to focus our energy.”

Middleton said between 40 and 50 of the homes in the state requirement need to be designated as affordable housing. The city is also developing plans to add residences at mixed-use buildings at sites that are occupied.

The developers have no project cost estimate, Dorfman said. He said the price tag is subject to inflation and material costs and permitting, and would be ascertained later.

If the project is approved, it could take 18 to 24 months for construction to begin. The property owners are offering $6,500 in relocation funds and a minimum of six months notice before work would get underway and $7,500 and preferential access for residents who decide to return.

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