Town of Fairfax
The following comment letter has been submitted to the Town of Fairfax regarding the Scoping Session for the Notice Of Preparation of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Report Housing & Safety Elements Report Housing & Safety Elements prepared by consultants Dyett & Bhatia
DATE: May 3, 2023
TO: Town Manager Heather Abrams
RE: Comments/Scoping Session/NOP Programmatic Environmental Impact Report/Fairfax's Housing & Safety Elements/Dyett & Bhatia
FROM: Frank Egger and Save Fairfax
REQUEST: A full Environmental Impact Report on the Fairfax housing project for the 2023 to 2031 Housing Cycle proposed to meet Fairfax's RHNA #s.
A PEIR is insufficient for Fairfax residents to fully understand the adverse impacts on the Dyett & Bhatia proposals for Fairfax, 490 to 583/588 units during the 6th Cycle. Fairfax has had strict height limits for decades, 28 & 1/2 feet for commercially zoned properties, and 35 feet with a maximum of three stories for residentially zoned properties. With a 5 to 7 story development proposal, Fairfax, a member of the Ross Valley Fire Authority, must depend on other fire agencies to fight a high-rise fire. Other agencies that have ladder trucks may have their own fires at the same time.
Fairfax is an old resort Town, narrow winding roads, one way in and one way out. With most of the Town in a WUI fire zone and the Town listed as the 13th most threatened community in the Northbay for wildland fires, clear evacuation routes with sufficient widths must be capable of evacuating Deer Park, the Cascades, Manor Hill, Marinda Oaks, the Rocca, Willow and Forrest Avenue neighborhoods and actually the whole Town.
Will SF Drake Boulevard be required to be 4 lanes removing all on-street parking on SF Drake Blvd?
A Fourth District Appellate Decision on Evacuation Routes applies to the Fairfax proposals for hundreds of new housing units.
The only mechanism to fully understand the impacts of the proposed 175 units of 5 to 7 story structures on School Street Plaza that backs on to Fairfax Creek, a known salmonid spawning & rearing stream, a site that was the former site of Central School, a parcel that has sacred Native American relics buried, a site that will overwhelm the School Street & Park Road neighborhoods with on street parking, a structure that will create shadows and block views is a full EIR.
Water supply: Does the MMWD have sufficient water supply available for the 14,400 new units that HCD is requiring to be built in Marin County, including Fairfax's 490 to 583?
An EIR is required to understand how Fairfax will override the 1980's Marin County Superior Court Decision that requires 50 acres of Open Space for the Fairfax Hills Development, now proposed for new housing.
An EIR is necessary to provide a mechanism for the Fairfax Town Council to overturn 55 years of ordinances that were adopted by previous Town Councils because of physical constraints on Town building sites and resources.
In reading what Dyett & Bhatia has prepared for Fairfax's Housing & Safety Elements, it is clear they have no institutional knowledge of Fairfax, either the historical background as to why Fairfax remains the last of the old small towns in Marin or the legal battles fought out in local & appellate courts to preserve, protect & restore Fairfax. Dyett & Bhatia prepared the 2nd reiteration of Fairfax's Housing & Safety Elements after the initial process had been started by the EMC Planning Group and then after the firing of EMC.
The proposed Fairfax Housing Element has identified every vacant parcel of land in Fairfax and Dyett & Bhatia has set a density on these vacant and or underutilized parcels in Town knowing neither the history, the previous General Plan Elements, the Court decisions impacting any future development nor the applicable Town Code sections that apply to these parcels.
School Street Plaza has been designated for 175 units in the Housing Element with 5 to 7 story buildings on 1.92 acres backing onto Fairfax Creek whose portion is in the known flood plain. The 1.92 acres is zoned “CL LIMITED COMMERCIAL ZONE, § 17.092.040 PRINCIPAL PERMITTED USES AND STRUCTURES” are commercial.
School Street Plaza is a place for small businesses to locate, a spot for incubator businesses. The Fairfax zoning ordinance does not allow residential as a principal permitted use in the CL Limited Commercial Zone. Residence may be allowed by Use Permit if appropriate findings can be made by the Planning Commission & ultimately the Town Council. The height limit is 28.5 feet and may not contain more than two stories.
Dyett & Bhatia has designated the 10.53 acre ridgetop open space parcel (174-060-21) for six units. It was the private Open Space for the 52 unit Meadowland subdivision that Fairfax annexed and re-approved in the later 1960's in a Planned District Development (PDD) zone.
The County of Marin had initially approved the 52 unit subdivision conditioned on the 10.53 acre parcel being set aside as Private Open Space. That parcel is landlocked. The 10.53 acre open space parcel was sold about 4 years ago and the new owner still has no frontage on an improved Fairfax public street as required by Fairfax Town Code. The only way a vehicle can access the 10.53 acre Meadowland ridgetop parcel is by leaving Fairfax Town Limits and driving through unincorporated Fairfax up a very steep side ridge portion of the Marin County Open Space District's land which is prohibited by a Fairfax Ordinance adopted in 2001.
The Private Open Space Parcel is above the Canon Tennis & Swim Club and has no access from Canon Village.
Fairfax has many zoning ordinances on the books that I authored. One says a Fairfax development must be accessed through a Fairfax roadway and a developer cannot access their property in Fairfax through another jurisdiction like either Marin County or San Anselmo. The purpose there is to give direct access for emergency response from Fairfax Police and not require FPD to travel through another jurisdiction to get to a Fairfax property for emergencies.
Another ordinance says any housing development in Fairfax must have frontage on a Fairfax public street. Each unit must have frontage on an improved public street. The 10.53-acre parcel has no Fairfax street frontage.
There are 3 landlocked parcels close to our easterly border with San Anselmo, none of which have Fairfax street frontage, and Dyett & Bhatia has designated those 3 parcels with 10 units, all three parcels can only be accessed through San Anselmo, a 10-minute drive out of Fairfax east on Center Blvd to San Anselmo and then up Scenic Avenue. The first of the three is parcel # 002-181-20, the former Jammie Williams 6.99 acre property zoned Upland Residential 10-acre minimum above Sky Ranch.
The Fairfax Town Council rejected development of that property in 2001 based on no frontage on an improved Fairfax public street and the only vehicle access was a narrow driveway easement through private property from Scenic Avenue in San Anselmo.
The second and third parcels are 002-181-04 and 002-181-05 (same owner) are designated for six units, roughly 10 acres combined and zoned Upland Residential 10-acre minimum. It is impossible to extend Hillside Drive to these two parcels and access from Scenic Avenue in San Anselmo and Francis Avenue in Fairfax will not work either.
Another parcel is a large parcel that was dedicated as Open Space through a Marin County Superior Court Order, the mandatory settlement requirement when the owner of the proposed Fairfax Hills subdivision sued Fairfax in the 1980's over our restrictions on the project.
Dyett & Bhatia has designated a portion of that Private Open Space, parcel #174-070-71 with an address of 615 Oak Manor Drive, for 10 units. That parcel is the Remainder Parcel, originally the 50-acre parcel that was all Private Open Space as required by Marin County Superior Court Judge William H. Stephens' Order and signed by the Hill Family and the Town of Fairfax.
Fairfax has already violated that court order once when the Planning Commission approved the building of at least one house on the Private Open Space towards the top on a cul-de-sac off of Oak Manor Drive when James Moore was Planning Director. The only two members of that Town Council still with us are former mayor Wendy Baker and myself.
Another 2 parcels that we purchased for Open Space in the late 1960's or early 1970's, Dyett & Bhatia want to put 10 units on them. Parcels 002-123-17 & 002-144-01 are on Forrest Ave and are very steep and forested. They border Marin Town & Country Club. Another reason Fairfax purchased those two parcels was to provide access to the Marin Town & Country Club should one day either a private or public club or recreation area, for which the land is zoned for, be restored there.
There is a 100-acre parcel that a developer wanted to subdivide into 10 estate lots with ADUs that is in a mapped Wildland Urban Interface Zone (WUI), a known high landslide prone area and mansions built on the Ridgeline Scenic Corridor and he called it Marinda Heights. 250 trees would have to be cut down and 4 years ago the then Town Council said an EIR was necessary for CEQA compliance but the developer refused to pay for an EIR.
So, no EIR was ever done and now Dyett & Bhatia wants to designate it for a 10 estate lot subdivision with 10 acres for each lot with the possibility of both an ADU and JADU on each parcel, perhaps 30 units.
The Ross property parcels, 003-171-02, 05 and 08 at the top of the north side of Toyon is shown with four units. The parcels are known as Northern Spotted Owl habitat and they sit in the middle of the Town's WUI Zone. A public roadway would have to be built and accepted by the Town for maintenance to provide vehicle access to 3 of the 4 units.
Fairfax banned septic tanks in 1974 and that ordinance has never been repealed. Canyon Road residents taxed themselves to install Ross Valley Sanitary District's system for new development. Fairfax allows new development on cascade drive on a septic tank in violation of Fairfax's ordinance.
During the early 1980's Fairfax merged over 1,000 parcels because they did not meet development and zoning standards. The Dyett & Bhatia proposal lists a number of vacant parcels to be developed. There is an Assessor's Parcel Book in the Town Safe with all of the merged parcels marked. Fairfax recorded the merged parcels at the Marin County Recorder's Office. Someone must review the Dyett & Bhatia listed vacant parcels to determine if any of them have been merged.
10 Olema, parcel 001-104-12 is zoned CL Limited Commercial, it has the same zoning constraints as School Street Plaza. It backs onto Fairfax Creek with a required creek setback of at least 20 feet from the top of the bank. The whole property flooded in 1982. One of Fairfax's oldest historical Victorian homes sits on the property. Dyett & Bhatia designated it for 31 units.
Dyett & Bhatia designates the Jehovah Witnesses Church property on SF Drake Blvd for 29 units.
Two parcels at the east end of SF Drake, the historic "Old Timer Club", now a beer pub, and the oldest home in Fairfax next door adjacent to the Town Limits of San Anselmo. Dyett & Bhatia has designated them for at least 6 units with no way to preserve the existing historic structures.
Dyett & Bhatia's Redevelopment proposals will turn the SF Drake Boulevard corridor from small commercial shops into a highrise zone.
Page 3-15, 2nd paragraph states Fairfax will undertake a focused geologic study to identify a range of measures that developers could incorporate to save costs. What Dyett & Bhatia do not know is that Fairfax has always suffered from landslides, homes sliding down the hillsides. Then, because of slides in the late sixties and early seventies and Fairfax's propensity of high hazards for landslides, The State of California, Division of Mines & Geology, moved State geologist Ted Smith to Fairfax for one year for the purpose of mapping every known landslide in Fairfax.
The State rented Mr. Smith a house in Fairfax and he walked every street and road checking for both active and inactive landslide formations. He mapped the whole Town and each landslide area was marked with a number. A 4 being the most susceptible for a landslide.
In 1973, we hired Wallace McGarg Roberts & Todd (WMRT) to prepare Fairfax's 1974 Open Space Element. WMR&T was given a copy of State geologist Ted Smith's field notes to map Fairfax's known landslides. That General Plan Open Space Map was in the Town Safe when I left the Town Council in 2005. Now Dyett & Bhatia wants Fairfax to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to remap all of the known landslides.
Fairfax is in the worst shape for disasters, fires and floods, than any other of Marin's towns/cities. Most of Fairfax is in the Wildland Urban Interface Zone (WUI) and what is not in the WUI Zone, is in the Flood Zone. In 1982, we had 18 inches of rainwater flowing through downtown Fairfax businesses. The Sunnyside Detention Basin constructed by the Ross Valley Flood Zone 9 will reduce downtown Fairfax Fairfax flooding by 4 inches so instead of 18 inches of flood water flowing through downtown businesses, only 14 inches of flood water will flow through them.
I was here in Fairfax in 1944 when Marin County prepared to evacuate the entire Town of Fairfax because of the wildland fire that came over Mount Tam burning north. The wind shifted to the northwest and Fairfax was spared. My father and I drove out to the Taylor Campgrounds (before it became Samuel Taylor State Park) and the fire burned itself out when it hit Lagunitas Creek.
Fairfax has one way in and one way out. A vehicle accident on SF Drake in Fairfax turns the Upper Ross Valley into gridlock for hours. Fairfax must have a real Evacuation Plan to get 7,500 people out of here. The mapping we have today is useless in a major conflagration. Fairfax will end up being another "Paradise" if this Redevelopment Plan proposed by Dyett & Bhatia is approved as written.
This is why a PEIR is insufficient and a full EIR is necessary.