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Will 7/11/17 CM Inn Rebuild Meeting Yield A “Convenience Store Decision”?

Will 7/11/17 CM Inn Rebuild Meeting Yield A “Convenience Store Decision”?

The Planning Commission hearing on the Corte Madera Inn Rebuild continues 7:30 pm Tuesday 7/11/17 at Town Hall. And Commissioners appear edging ever closing to approving Reneson Hotel’s latest 175-unit project iteration which includes a small pond in the northeast corner of the property, immediately adjacent to eight lanes of freeway.

The project, if approved, also provides the developer with these requested entitlements beyond what Town code allows: (1) General Plan Amendment allowing for change from Mixed-Use Commercial Zoning (.34 FAR) to New Hotel/Motel Highway Commercial (.55 FAR) and (2) a Zoning Ordinance Amendment from C-3 Highway Commercial to New C-5 Hotel/Highway Commercial.

But has Reneson done enough to deserve these perks which they claim they need to be market competitive?

Simply put, has Reneson done enough to satisfy the community’s outstanding aesthetic and environmental concerns?

That is the question Planning Commissioners will be tasked to answer on Tuesday.

Project proponents say the good folks at Reneson Hotels have bent over backwards. They’ve reduced their desired room count from 187 units to 175. They promise to underground utilities, pull back curbs to allow bike lanes and also allow for the hotel used as an emergency shelter in time of disaster. Plus, Reneson’s latest design pencils in a pond, albeit a small one, which Reneson originally rejected entirely.

So what’s the beef?

What’s the problem that has forced project opponents to appear and reappear at what seems like a series of endless frustrating hearings over the last three years?

Aside from the massive and blocky corporate Marriott courtyard design--- which continues to bother most project opponents---the outstanding beef is and unfortunately still remains environmental.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board, which has wetlands jurisdiction over the existing .64 pond, may well rule eventually that Reneson’s 11th hour nod toward environmentalism is still insufficient from the RWQCB perspective. It saves only 36 per cent of the existing pond. It also and would require that 36 per cent to be completely re-engineered---requiring transplanting of existing aquatic Widgeon Grass (a protected species) and a significant replanting of roosting trees for Black-crowned Night (another protected species) to replace the 79 trees that will be felled when the site is cleared for construction.

Opponents say significant questions need to be answered before Planning Commission approves the project.

(1)Would saved samples of the Widgeon grass, gathered from pond substrate, survive the construction process? (Reneson says oh yeah, promising to keep them “moist”.)

(2)What happens during site clearing construction to the Night heron colony, numbering 35 at Audubon”s 2016 Christmas bird count? Will that displaced bird colony wait for trees to grow back? Will they in fact ever return to a much scantier roost?

(3)Considering the fact that the existing large pond is kidney shaped, surrounded by trees and offers some seclusion from the highway, could would a re-engineered small pond immediately adjacent to eight lanes of freeway be an environmentally acceptable substitute for what now exists?

(4)And why has Planning Commission from the beginning accepted at face value Reneson’s assertion that a new 147-unit hotel---pond-saving CEQA Environmentally Superior Alternative #2---would not be profitable for Reneson? Present unit count on site is 110. Alt #2 gives them a 37 per cent increase.

In a private conversation with an activist at the May 23 hearing, one Commissioner said that after three years of contentious go-arounds on this contentious project---which is still highly unpopular with many in the community---that Commissioner was just plain “tired”.

That’s why a lot of folks shop at convenience stores, too. They’re tired. And they want to get in and out and go home quick.

But the gnarly esthetic and environmental issues of the Corte Madera Inn Rebuild project have not gone away. A General Plan amendment and a zoning change are big deals to approve. . Let’s hope that project review fatigue does not dictate a “7-Eleven” decision at Planning Commission hearing on Tuesday. Didn’t we already see that in the special “Gateway Zoning District” created to facilitate the WinCup disaster?


Corte Madera Inn, Wetlands Protection