Scenic road status not top priority

02/07/2013

Supervisors this week postponed a request by a group of homeowners in and around Lucas Valley to begin a process to turn Lucas Valley Road into the county’s first scenic highway, explaining it is not a top priority amid what one supervisor described as a “very aggressive, ambitious workload.”

Supervisors at Tuesday’s board meeting, which drew a number of homeowners, said the county is facing cuts to staffing and resources and is occupied with more pressing initiatives.

Tom Lai, assistant director of the Community Development Agency, said that, even though plans acknowledging the road, among others, as a potential scenic highway are listed in the Countywide Plan, it was not “significant enough to warrant changing… and deferring higher priorities.” Among those priorities are plans to update stream and wetlands ordinances and finalize the county’s coastal program. 

But it is a priority for a coalition of homeowners, from Lucas Valley to San Rafael, who within the past few months have gather more than 250 signatures requesting the county to start the process.  

Among them is Carolyn Lenert, chair of the homeowners group pushing for the designation, who cast efforts to enshrine the largely rural road as a scenic route as a matter of preservation. “You can call that activism, if you like, you can call it leadership. But what we do all agree on is the health, safety and the beauty of this incredible area we live in is paramount,” she said.

Other residents, including Dale Miller, whose home is adjacent to Lucas Valley Road, are concerned such a designation would result in tighter building regulations, including setback requirements from the road. “We need to be careful about taking this next step,” he said. “It may not be the best way to maintain this scenic area in our community.”

The homeowners’ online petition, which emerged a couple months ago, comes as the Marin Community Foundation is seeking developers for low-income housing on a part of the Grady Ranch abutting Lucas Valley Road.  

That part of the ranch, whose zoning regulations the county plans to change to permit up to 240 low-income homes, was the site Lucasfilm had chosen to develop a digital production studio; those plans were scrapped last year amid criticism from nearby homeowners, some of whom are now backing the petition.

Dr. Tom Peters, president and CEO of the community foundation, assured any type of development, if approved, will comply with county regulations.

“We absolutely intend the homes to be so aesthetically pleasing and tied into the environment… that it will be a beautiful addition to the scenic nature of the valley,” he said. The foundation will review applications in the coming months before seeking a potential developer.

It is unclear whether the scenic designation would increase building regulations already seen by some as excessive.

The process, overseen by the state’s Department of Transportation, requires the county to develop policies complying with state guidelines for a scenic highway.

Supervisor Susan Adams, whose district covers most of the road, said the board may reconsider the process in the next year and a half to gain a “deeper understanding of the pros and cons.”

“It’s not a, ‘No,’” Ms. Adams said by phone after the meeting, “but there’s no big rush to do this.”