City of Mill Valley
At their weekly hearing on Monday night, January 6, 2020, the City Council of Mill Valley will vote on the Staff Report recommendation to eliminate the longstanding zoning provision that allows single-family homeowners to have a 500 square foot exemption from their lot's total "Floor Area Ratio" (FAR).
The logic of this existing exemption is that in many parts of the city building lots are very small, and since garages are not "habitable space," to count them in the already restrictive FAR maximums would make many existing houses on these lots too small to renovate or improve. It would also make some lots unbuildable.
If this FAR zoning provision is removed, Mill Valley homeowners will suffer the biggest loss in property values in history. Based on the proposal, this would cost existing Mill Valley homeowners approximately $3 billion in property value losses.
On Monday night, the Council is about to vote to eliminate this zoning provision.
The only way to stop this is to immediately write, email, and call the City and demand that this proposal be removed from consideration.
I have sent the following letter of objection to the Mill Valley City Council.
Dear Mill Valley City Council,
This letter is to state an unequivocal objection to the proposal to eliminate the existing 500 square foot FAR exemption for single-family home garages in residential zoned areas in Mill Valley (Staff Report quoted below). In addition, the cavalier manner in which the city is attempting to slip this into the hearing, as the last item on the agenda, as if it were a minor item of public interest is appalling.
I can say with confidence that NONE of the residents in my neighborhood have any idea this is being proposed and if they did they would be up in arms.
This exact same proposal was advanced in 1994, by the city, for the Sycamore Park neighborhood, and again in 2013 for the entire city, and both times was resoundingly rejected by the community with threats of a class action suit, for the very reasons noted herein.
This proposal constitutes an illegal taking of property value and property rights without any required findings of facts or data. The recommendation of this action is based purely on personal opinion and whimsical feelings of certain staff members and council members.
Property values in Mill Valley currently start at a minimum of $1,000 per square foot of habitable space and go as high as $1,500 per square foot. This proposal would reduce the existing total habitable space and the total size of a new or a renovated home, even if that home or remodel would be required by the Planning Department to include a one car garage (which would then be counted as if it were habitable space).
Using the lower figure ($1,000), in Sycamore Park, alone (a neighborhood of “starter” homes), this change would deny approximately 500 homeowners $250,000,000 in current owner valuation (i.e., the potential value of garages currently being used for cars and storage, or the amount of FAR that would be decreased for a new home or substantial renovation).
Assuming that 80% of Mill Valley’s 6,100 homes are single family, and of those, half currently are covered under the 500 square foot garage exemption, this proposal would result in 2,440 homes losing between $1,000 to $1,500 per square foot of potential FAR value (using $1,250), equaling a total loss of homeowner real estate value of approximately $3 billion!
Speaking as a longstanding community representative in my neighborhood, I demand that this item be removed from the hearing agenda, and if any public debate is to be had on this issue in the future, that it be heavily publicized directly to all the homeowners who will suffer significant financial losses as a result.
Excerpt from the Staff Report
"Based on new state incentives (e.g. elimination of impact fees for units less than 750 square feet, reduced local control over the review and approval process, and limitations on Floor Area and Lot Coverage for certain types of ADUs), the adopted ordinance removed City's long-standing "Floor Area Bonus," allowing up to 500 square feet of additional Floor Area to build an ADU.
"At the December 2, 2019 Council hearing, Council directed staff to amend the Interim 54 Ordinance to include the following additional provisions:
"• Garage Floor Area Exemption (Attachment I/Exhibit A, Lines 4-8). The revised Interim Ordinance eliminates the 500 square foot Floor Area exemption for building a garage. This long-standing exemption has been used in Mill Valley as an incentive to create a space for storing vehicles. However, State Law now allows garages to be converted into an ADU regardless of lot size, setback or Floor Area, and eliminates the replacement of off-street parking. These new factors may result in further abuse of garage space not being used for the primary purpose of vehicle storage. As such, the garage Floor Area exemption is recommended to be eliminated in the revised Interim Ordinance.
"City Council Staff Report: Interim ADU Ordinance January 6, 2020 Page 3 of 4
"Eliminating the 500 square foot garage exemption does impact the design of new proposed projects by reducing the size of habitable space by 500 square feet for substantial remodels and new homes.
"The implication of removing the garage Floor Area exemption will be further evaluated and discussed with the community through Planning Commission meetings as part of developing a permanent ADU Ordinance for City Council's consideration. In the meantime, staff has reached out to over 375 local designers and architects about the new changes to the City's 73 Floor Area regulations."
Community Venture Partners
73 Surrey Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941
For an update on the outcome of the City Council hearing, please see: