Neighbor appeals Bolinas affordable housing project

04/28/2021

A neighbor appealed the Bolinas Community Land Trust’s downtown affordable housing project last week, citing concerns with the buildings’ impact on his property. The land trust is digging in its heels ahead of a Board of Supervisors hearing anticipated in early June, and said the appeal would delay the project by several months.

The proposed eight-unit complex at 31 Wharf Road is large for Bolinas, but so is the need. The town is suffering from an affordable housing crisis, as teachers, firefighters, servers and other workers are pushed out by high rents. The Marin County Planning Commission approved the project’s design review, use permit and coastal permit by a 5-1 vote on April 12 after hearing from more than 150 members of the public. Most commenters voiced the need for affordable housing, but some argued against the size and design, including Roland Crotts, who owns the home next door. Mr. Crotts said the buildings would loom over his property and eliminate his view of the Bolinas Ridge. 

In his appeal, Mr. Crotts furthered those concerns. His lawyer John Sharp wrote that county staff’s finding that the project “will not impair, or interfere with, the development, use or enjoyment of other property in the vicinity” is not supported by substantial evidence. Mr. Sharp also said the buildings’ 33-foot height is out of character with the neighborhood, and that the development would impact Mr. Crotts’s easement rights. He shared concerns with some community members about the development’s potential burden on water supply and sewage capacity. The project should be denied or further reviewed, he wrote.

On a phone call this week, Mr. Crotts declined an interview. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s right media or left media, I just can’t trust any media these days,” he said. He added, “Have you been to Bolinas? Have you seen the story poles? That tells you all you need to know. Think about if that was your house.”

Arianne Dar, the land trust’s executive director, said she is disheartened by the appeal. The project was already delayed after the story poles went up in November and people were alarmed, she said. At that point, the organization conducted a community survey, which showed the vast majority of respondents supported the project. The project’s architects have already worked with Mr. Crotts to try address his concerns; Ms. Dar said they will not be brought back in to redesign the project.

The land trust has hired a legal team to argue that housing for eight families is more important than Mr. Crotts’s view of the ridge from his porch.

“It’s unconscionable that people drag out an affordable housing project and spend essentially charitable dollars on frivolous appeals,” Ms. Dar told the Light. 

A redesign would cost more than $150,000 in architect fees, Ms. Dar said, and the lawyers will cost north of $10,000. 

The project was scheduled to break ground this fall, but now Ms. Dar expects construction to begin next spring at the earliest, depending on the result of the hearing and how long construction drawings and building permits take. 

Because the project is located in the coastal zone, if the Board of Supervisors rejects the appeal, Mr. Crotts could appeal the county’s coastal permit to the California Coastal Commission. If that fails, his only option would be litigation.

The land trust acquired the vacant, 2.3-acre property in 2019 from an anonymous donor who pushed a quick timeline and an ambitious scale. Later that year, the land trust revealed designs for two buildings on the hillside, with four 1,350-square-foot, three-bedroom units, four 945-square-foot, two-bedroom units and two commercial spaces at street level. All of the housing would be reserved for low-income tenants.