Size matters: Tim Westergren project threatens West Marin’s style

11/26/2014

We believe the unprecedented size of the proposed development by Hidden Dragon, L.L.C. at 135 Balboa Avenue is a call to our community to protect its scale and character. The proposed 5,494-square foot main house is more than twice the median size—less than 2,000 square feet—of all the properties on nearby Drakes Summit and Balboa. The house has three wings, which the applicants say they need for extended families who would visit for several weeks each year. 

A massive house rarely used is an unwarranted waste of precious resources; to call it “sustainable” and “green” renders these terms meaningless.

The proposed 8,297 square feet of buildings in the compound also includes a 750-square foot second unit that can only be accessed by going through a 1,316-square foot “art studio,” with five rooms and a full bathroom. These two buildings are connected by a breezeway, with the roofs only a foot apart. The second unit is therefore 2,066 square feet, with the potential for six bedrooms, two bathrooms and a two-car garage, and nearly triple the size allowed for a second unit. 

Such a unit would render the countywide second-unit ordinance irrelevant, since one could build a studio of any size, as long as it doesn’t have a kitchen, and connect it to a second unit.

Owners Tim Westergren and Smita Singh have said they are building an environmentally sensitive home and that the 16.9-acre lot justifies a large home. But only seven acres of the property can be built upon; the rest is protected by an 8.5-acre scenic easement adjacent to Haggerty Gulch and a 1.2-acre stream setback. This means the building to lot ratio is much larger. Historically, owners of large parcels in this area have chosen to keep their homes small; there are six large properties within a half-mile, with an average building area of 2,365 square feet.

The scale of the project also involves cutting down much of the mature Douglas fir forest—46 trees, 38 of which are heritage, protected and native trees—and then “planting a new forest.” Trees are dependent on one another for their stability, and the beauty of these trees creates a powerful peace. 

While those with unlimited resources can build their dream homes, they may fail to appreciate what already exists, thereby destroying what was attractive in the first place.  

With its numerous bedrooms, friends and colleagues could come and use the property as much as they like—swimming pool included. Because of its size and the configuration of its rooms, a future owner could certainly take advantage of its business opportunities. The wings and corridors make the project inviting as a retreat center, especially since all bedrooms and guest “exercise rooms” have their own bathrooms, suggesting use by unrelated occupants. 

The Westergrens claim they have “no intention of ever renting the property or using it for a business retreat… or other form of hotel,” and that they “plan to keep this property in the family… in perpetuity.” Though we applaud these intentions, we question the couple’s ability to predict their family’s future plans with such assurance.  

Size matters because if the county permits this project, it does so for use 365 days of the year—with its many bedrooms, 14 bathrooms and 16,000-gallon lap pool. Permitting a building like this on Balboa is especially egregious, since the 33 or so families who live above the project on Drakes Summit cannot be serviced by municipal water, and are instead dependent on private wells.

Size matters because the people who live here full time are also dependent on one another for their stability. We don’t have hotels and golf courses because many people have devoted countless hours to keeping that from happening. The proposed house looks a lot like those in Napa and Tiburon, beautiful places where huge houses are common and empty.  

Size matters because it sets a precedent, and becomes a game of out-doing the next applicant who happens by. The next person will need to outbuild the last, and can prove to the planning department that it was done in Inverness Park. 

It’s also ludicrous to pretend a project of this size has no effect on the land it impacts. Leave aside for a moment the manufacture and construction of materials for the project (which are huge), and consider the digging, earth-moving, septic preparation, required parking, burial of water tanks and noise of construction, all of which will be several years in the making. 

The neighbors are not just human—this land is bordered by the national seashore and water district lands and is an active wildlife corridor that runs, interrupted only by Balboa itself, for at least five miles. To call these plans sensitive to the environment reveals just how deluded the project is.

We sincerely hope the Westergrens, who seem to be socially conscious people who share many of our values, will listen to the community and will substantially scale down their project. And perhaps we can seize this opportunity for creative dialogue with the developers, to help them see more deeply why we care about size.

We urge everyone in the community who is concerned about the unprecedented size of this proposed development to write to hscoble@marincounty.org with your comments.

 

Nancy Stein, Mary Winegarden and Geoff Hoyle, Doug and Kathy Gower, Ron Wagner and Bonnie Ruder, Cindy and Ken Knabe, Maica Folch and Dan Barton, Christine Nielsen, Mary Jo Maendle, Cynthia Hammond, Isabel McCudden, Elan Whitney, Debbie Daly and Tim Weed, Andrew and Rebecca Smith Bindman, Paola Bouley, Axel and Mara Nelson, Cynthia Hammond, Kate Matthay, Inez Storer, Kathy Maxwell, Ginny Michael and Joe Michael.