As Moonrise Kingdom plans coalesce, Inverness Association worries over size

10/06/2016

Plans for a property at the top of Vision Road in Inverness have drawn scrutiny from the Inverness Association and some community members concerned about its size. 

San Franciscans Trevor and Alexis Traina, who own the six-acre property through an L.L.C. called Moonrise Kingdom, submitted an application to the county this summer that includes legalizing three existing structures, demolishing two structures and building a new home to be used for family vacations. The existing buildings, which date back to the 1960s, were built by the late engineer Howard Waite, who used mostly nearby bishop pines in his handmade projects.

To some, the total square footage in the plans seems too large to be in step with the community character, and the Inverness Association says the project could become the largest residential development in town. But the Trainas argue that much of that development—over 5,000 square feet—already exists. “We are preservationists,” Mr. Traina, the founder and CEO of IfOnly, which lets people sell or purchase unique experiences, said in an email. “We have spoken extensively with [Mr. Waite’s family] as well as neighbors and locals who love the structures and we are convinced we are restoring the property in a sensitive and caring way.” 

The county received a flurry of comments on Monday after many people mistook that day as the deadline to submit them. But county planner Jocelyn Drake said the Monday deadline was part of the process of determining the application’s completeness. Individuals can comment anytime before and during a public hearing, which will be scheduled once the application is complete. 

The Trainas’ plans include a new 4,481-square-foot home. They would also legalize three structures: a 1,610-square-foot building known as the Windmill, a 32-foot-tall structure that was built with permits in the ‘80s but later modified so that the county does not currently consider it legal; an 870-square-foot barn; and a 1,146-square-foot building known as Howard’s House. 

Richard Olsen, an expert on green architecture, wrote in an email that the cabin “perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the environmentally focused revolt culture that erupted in the state in the 1960s.” He said, “That…the Trainas have opted to painstakingly restore and adapt themselves to this funky little building, with all its Waite idiosyncrasies literally built in to its every nook, is frankly as unexpected as it is laudable.”

The plans would demolish two structures known as Yetta’s house and the Playhouse, as well as remove 50 trees, 30 of them “due to their poor health and structure,” their age or their “state of decline as a result of invasive pests [or] pathogens,” the project description says. Over 400 trees will remain.

As proposed, the project has an 8,544-square-footprint on the six-acre property. And it’s that large number that concerns the Inverness Association and other community members.

Although the number the association cited in a letter to the county—9,291 square feet—reflects a previous county error, the letter’s author, Catherine Caufield, said the actual building area is still relevant to the group’s concerns.

The association wrote that a preliminary analysis of 13 nearby properties found that the average residential development is 1,595 square feet, and that “the largest residential development is 5,477 square feet.” “[I]f approved, the project would very likely be the largest residence in Inverness,” the group wrote.

“We are concerned that development on this scale is out of proportion with the neighborhood,” the letter goes on, adding that the current structures “were unpermitted and are being applied for de novo…”

The association also has concerns about the Windmill, which exceeds a 15-foot height limit for accessory structures and which they fear could be turned into a second guest cottage—a plan Ms. Traina said was not in the works. The association suggests that eliminating that structure would reduce the project’s footprint, better cluster the structures, eliminate a “threat to the viewshed” and avoid “a battle over the height limit exemption.”

Other community members reiterated some of those concerns, particularly regarding the project’s size compared to nearby homes. But Ms. Traina underscored that most of the proposed square footage already existed on the property for many decades. She said the property currently has 5,084 square feet of development.

And Mr. Traina wrote that while the barn and cabins add to the footprint, the couple is “basically planning to live” in a 3,900-square-foot home that is “fully hidden from the road” and “appropriate for a property of almost seven acres.” (While the home’s building area is 4,481 square feet, the floor area is 3,993 square feet.)

Ms. Traina also emphasized the many benefits they will bring to the property, including woodland management, a new emergency access road and a new 25,000-gallon water storage for fire suppression. And they decided to remove the Playhouse because it was in a wetland buffer zone.

For Mr. Olsen, the new house “seeks to acknowledge and embrace Inverness’s deeper sense of place, that of the comparatively more grand Shingle Style” while offering “the kind of spatial expansiveness both comfortably permitted by the acreage and which for centuries has simply been a customary feature of the great American country house tradition.”