Land trust surveys residents on Bolinas affordable housing plan

10/28/2020

The story poles are up on a vacant lot on Wharf Road in Bolinas, outlining one of the most ambitious affordable housing projects undertaken by the Bolinas Community Land Trust to date. Yet in a survey of the town conducted this month, more than a third of respondents signaled concern over the scale of the project, particularly related to parking and water use. 

The survey, which reached 311 primarily Bolinas residents, found that 88 percent were supportive of the creation of affordable housing in town in general and 74 percent thought the proposed project would be a beneficial asset for the town. Yet 39 percent said they didn’t think either the size or the scope of the project was appropriate for downtown, or they weren’t sure. 

“I am all for affordable housing, but it’s just that this complex is so big,” resident Ralph Camiccia told the Light. “It would be nice if it were smaller and that’s what everyone who is questioning thinks: It’s a little too big and oppressive for downtown.”

The land trust is currently preparing its application for a coastal permit to develop the property at 31 Wharf, which it acquired in early 2019 thanks to an anonymous donor with the stipulation that it obtain all necessary permits to build eight units within 18 months. The project includes two complexes comprising four 1,350-square-foot, three-bedroom units, four 945-square-foot, two-bedroom units and two commercial spaces at the street level. 

Twenty-four percent of those who responded to the survey said they thought that parking would be negatively impacted, and 20 percent thought the number of occupants should be kept as low as possible in order to reduce water consumption. The trust analyzed the comments on these topics, and publicized responses to the 54 comments that expressed concern about parking congestion, the 42 that concerned water use and sewer impacts, and the 57 that discussed size and scope in general. 

After completing a traffic study, the trust has planned to provide between 20 and 24 off-street parking spaces. Those will be designated not only for the tenants of the new units but also for the employees of Smiley’s Schooner Saloon, the Coast Café and the new retail spaces on the site.

The Bolinas Community Public Utility District will consider the trust’s latest plans next month. In a 4:1 vote in January, the board amended a policy governing water meter transfers to add flexibility for properties restricted for affordable housing. The new policy allowed the trust to proceed with its plans, including the possibility that it could transfer the water allocation for the Gibson House—an affordable downtown home where tenants use much less water than is allotted—to 31 Wharf. 

Recently, however, the trust discovered that it could drill a well on the property, though further testing is needed to determine how much of the water need it could cover. Along with the coastal development permit, the trust is applying for a well permit from the California Coastal Commission. (The BCPUD does not regulate wells in town.)

In its response to concerns about the scale of the project, the trust pointed out that coastal commission policies restrict multi-family developments to downtown areas. 

“Only the downtown area of Bolinas (Coastal Village Zone) is zoned for multi-family housing, and because of this, it is the only place we can create a project of this nature. It is the least impactful place to the environment and most impactful for people in need. We believe it will reinforce the concept of our “coastal village and will strengthen our community in downtown,” the trust said in its survey response. 

The downtown village zoning not only allows multi-family housing but also requires that the trust include the commercial units. 

The trust explained its financial impetus for building a larger number of units. “The cost of building eight individual homes is much more expensive than two structures with eight units,” it said. “There is an economy of scale to building all at once, as it is more efficient, more cost effective and allows us to provide desperately needed homes now.”

In 2018, the land trust announced a long-term goal of creating 50 new units, a number it believes would help meet local workforce needs. In February 2019, it announced the acquisition of 31 Wharf. Since then, it has held a number of public meetings to keep the community apprised of its plans. Nevertheless, especially in recent months, heated discussions have been sparked on online platforms such as NextDoor.  

“Replacing one or two of the four three-bedroom apartments with a one-bedroom and an efficiency (with accommodations for handicapped needs) would allow a more diverse residency and could hopefully cut back on size and the amount of paving, allowing us to live more lightly on the land,” longtime resident Jennie Pfeiffer wrote on NextDoor in September. “Maybe fewer cars parked on the uphill, whose heavy metals will flow unimpeded down that slope into storm drains directly into the lagoon. Maybe openings in the driveways so rainwater can soak in and so it’s not such an invitingly dangerous skate run down into the street.”

The trust does not have plans for another community forum, but some residents have sent their concerns to the planners who will review the permits.

The survey did ask respondents if they would support a scenario in which it scaled back the project, thereby losing the funding support of the donor, who in addition to covering the cost of the land will cover the building costs if the trust pays for and obtains permits within the allotted timeframe. 

Seventy percent of respondents said they would rather the trust keep the project the size it is; less than 4 percent asked the trust to cancel the project; and 21 percent wrote in with personalized alternatives. 

Ninety-one percent of respondents were full-time Bolinas residents, 62 percent own their homes, and 39 percent were age 65 or older.