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A voice of reason rises on the Corte Madera Planning Commission

On Tuesday, July 11, 2017, Corte Madera Planning Commission Vice Chair Phyllis Metcalfe delivered the following statement regarding the current proposal for the Corte Madera Inn Rebuild. It is printed here in its entirety, unedited.


Design decisions we make now can either enhance or undermine our community in ways that can affect Corte Madera for many years.

Approved projects should show creativity not become part of the run-of-the-mill architecture that we see too often. Good design decisions are needed if we are to maintain the attributes that brought us here.

I spent a weekend going through two large boxes that hold an accumulation of three-years’ worth of studies, plans, renderings and other paperwork for this hotel rebuild project --including community comments and the points made by Bob Silvestri in the Marin Post. I read through the notes I had taken during hearings and re-read our current ordinances as respects setbacks, lot coverage, height limits, floor area ratios, etc. and the variances needed for this project’s approvals.

I also reviewed all the paperwork on the “pond,” its current condition and its role as a habitat and learned more about widgeon grass than I ever wanted to know.

I found there is just one thing upon which everybody agrees – there is a demand for quality hotel rooms in our immediate area. No one doesn't want a hotel. They want a nice hotel, a quality hotel.

During the project’s review, there have been improvements and upgrades. The applicants have agreed to pay for several infrastructure upgrades of their own property and the property surrounding it. However, the building remains an uninspired u-shaped configuration because of Marriott’s requirement that a dual-branded hotel must have a centrally located single lobby.

The applicants will not consider a single-branded hotel even if all the rooms were configured for long-term occupancy. And will not consider a different affiliation or a stand-alone hotel.

I went back and thought about what I had learned when studying architecture. There are good elements of good architectural design that are needed in order to create good projects:

  1. Have a direct relationship with the natural features or landscape in which they exist;
  2. Are more than ordinary -- they are innovative, coherent and integrated into their environment and community;
  3. Not only fit that environment, but enhance it by being part of its beauty and values;
  4. Take an approach that enhances the natural contours of their setting;
  5. Are designed to be sustainable – not just by using solar panels, but by using sustainable materials in their construction;
  6. Balance the applicant’s wishes with the concerns and needs of neighbors and the community. This is one that is very important.

Studying this project reaffirmed to me that meeting ordinance requirements with the needed variances and the habitat requirements of the EIR plus that of state and federal agencies still would not make this project complement the natural setting of the property.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot see this project meeting the qualities needed to achieve good architectural design that would enhance the visual character of our town and thus I cannot support its approval.

Phyllis Metcalfe


To finally hear this kind of clarity and common sense from the dais instead of only from long lines of individuals making public comments during the three long years of hearings on this project, is nothing short of phenomenal. Commissioner Metcalfe deserves the community's gratitude and support for the courage she has demonstrated.

That said, this is not a time for celebration. Ms. Metcalfe has certainly thrown down a gauntlet, but the battle remains ahead. She needs the community's full support and unified voice.

Corte Madera Planning Staff needs to do better and start thinking about the bigger picture and the Town's community values, instead of just what the Grailou Family demands and what they can get away with under the prevailing regulations.

It seems clear that the applicant, Adam Wolfe and the town planners were taken by surprise by last night's turn of events. But, rest assured they will not take this lying down, if only to save face after so fervently promoting this increasingly bastardized proposal for so long.

But the winds of change are blowing against them.

Just this past week, a petition was started on to demand an "environmentally aware" hotel design for the Corte Madera Inn location, one that expressed and embodied the spirit and culture that makes Marin Marin, which includes preserving and enhancing the existing wetlands pond and wildlife habitat. It already has 312 signatures. It is very important that this petition reaches and even exceeds its goal of 500 signatures by local residents.

The petition was followed by opinion piece by Dick Spotswood in the Marin IJ, urging Marin cities and their planning commissions to step up their game and demand better, more appropriate and environmentally sustainable architecture. He is, of course, correct.

All of this is in the context of the years long dialog by Marin and Corte Madera residents, and community organizations, describing the current development proposal's short comings in great detail.

Marin should be a leader in great architecture and planning innovation. But, in fact, we have generally been terribly mediocre at best.

As I write this, I'm working from a loft in downtown New York City, less than two blocks from the new One World Trade Center tower. In the face of the horrific devastation that was experienced here not too long ago, everywhere you look there is a renaissance of architectural innovation and the realization of bold visions. Having lived in Marin for more than two decades, I'd almost forgotten what that looked like.

We can do better. We must do better.

WinCup has ruined one of Corte Madera's most significant development opportunities. And, once ruined, we are all stuck with the result for the next half century or more. The Corte Madera Inn site is another such opportunity.

Prominently placed on the highway, visible from miles down the road, what gets built there will make a strong statement about the character of Marin and the future of Town of Corte Madera.

Reneson Hotels has never provided any evidence of their claims that they cannot build anything other than a bland, cookie cutter, Marriott dual-branded project. Their approach to getting their way has involved tireless stone-walling, "alternative facts," and mis-direction to avoid the glaring truth. As a well respected and highly successful Marin hotel operator commented to me, "If they can't figure out how to build a great hotel there [that preserves the pond and habitat area] and make a good profit doing it, then they don't know how to run a hotel."

I would urge the community to double down on their efforts to tell their town planners and elected officials to do the right thing and demand a unique, appropriately sized, well designed hotel on the Corte Madera Inn site: one which preserves and enhances the wetlands pond and important wildlife habitat around it, and makes us all proud to live in this very special place.