In a win for a property owner at the top of Drakes View Drive concerned about his viewshed, the Planning Commission moved last week to reduce the size of a water tank that North Marin Water District plans to install—a replacement for an aging redwood tank and another taken by fire in 1995. 

The team of lawyers and consultants for the appellant, musician Jesse Colin Young, whose family owns two neighboring properties atop the ridge, argued that the district had not provided adequate notification of the project, questioned its safety and compliance, and described that the distressing visual impacts were possibly avoidable with a redesign.

“I believe further consideration should be made to the design of this water tank so we do not turn our beautiful forest into a concrete jungle,” Ethan Turner, Mr. Young’s godson who has lived at the property for the majority of his life, told the Planning Commission on Thursday.

Ultimately, commissioners found a county ridgeline code brought forward by Mr. Young’s attorney, which states that the height of new structures should not exceed 18 feet above the existing grade, the most compelling argument. They granted his appeal in part, approving the water district’s application for a coastal permit on condition that it lower the structure from the proposed 20 feet 8 inches to 18 feet and provide additional landscaped screening. 

Though a few feet might seem negligible, it will have an impact for the water district, according to the representative who spoke at Thursday’s hearing, engineer Rocky Vogler. 

Mr. Vogler explained that the district had hoped to build a 125,000-gallon concrete tank to meet updated water storage requirements from the Marin County Fire Department, which mandate a 1,000-gallon per minute flow for a duration of two hours in that area. The new tank will replace one burned in the Mount Vision Fire, which could hold 25,000 gallons, and a current standing redwood tank, which has a 50,000-gallon capacity. 

Theoretically, the district could widen the diameter of the tank to account for the Planning Commission’s directive, but Mr. Vogler said the proposed tank is already approaching the property lines, at just five feet from Mr. Young’s property on one side. Lowering the tank into the ground was also not a preferable option, Mr. Vogler argued, because doing so would lower the water pressure for nearby customers, many of whom already receive the lowest limit of serviceable water pressure. 

Mr. Vogler also shot down the recommendation from Mr. Young’s architect to divide the tank into two—that would cost twice as much, he said. 

The tank is the largest of several capital improvement projects North Marin is planning in West Marin, and though it was originally estimated to cost $525,000, it is now projected to reach $775,000. Furthermore, Mr. Vogler said, funding will come out of the pockets of West Marin customers only. 

District Four Commissioner Chris Desser said she was in a “quandary.” “Personally, I wouldn’t want a looming tank five feet from my property line. I think two tanks would be preferable, but it’s a lot of money,” she said.

Overall, commissioners took no issue with Mr. Vogler’s confirmation that the project was well-planned from an engineering standpoint and that the district adequately noticed the appellant. It also provided extensive public notification, including in this newspaper, and erected story polls at the site in 2016. 

Nevertheless, they remained sympathetic to Mr. Young’s view concerns. 

Despite photographs shown by both sides, it remained unclear how impactful the water tank might be for the Youngs’ residence. (There was also disagreement over the location of the sunset in the winter and summer months and whether the tank would block it.) 

Commissioners were most concerned about the Youngs’ adjacent property, whose borders come within five feet of the proposed tank. A house burned down in the Mount Vision Fire on that parcel, leaving the possibility of rebuilding.

Describing the water district’s efforts to minimize the visual impacts of the tank, Mr. Vogler said it planned to texture and paint the concrete so it better blended with the wooded habitat. A berm was planned for one side of the tank but, given the tight proximity to the Youngs’ property on the other side, the district decided against another to allow maintenance crews to have full access. 

Planning commissioners included a condition in their approval of the permit that the district work with Mr. Young to come up with some landscaping for that side.  

All commissioners but one voted in favor of the decision. Commissioner Margaret Curran expressed concerned about the impact of lowering the tank, primarily in regard to adequate water supply in a fire-prone landscape.