There's a battle brewing over the former WinCup property in Corte Madera. The last word, however, will go to Corte Madera Town Hall, according to Town Manager David Bracken.
Architects for a proposed mixed-use retail/residential development came before the Corte Madera Planning Commission hoping to simply get the go-ahead for the project and maybe a few design suggestions. The three remaining members of the five-man Planning Commission approved the design with some reluctance when the vote took place at 11:30 p.m., four hours after the meeting started.
Representatives from MacFarlane Partners heard plenty about the color scheme and texture for the building, but they also heard a shot in the fight over the property.
Transportation Authority of Marin executive director Dianne Steinhauser submitted a letter to Bracken arguing a potential conflict between the WinCup development and the proposed Highway 101/Greenbrae interchange.
"We are extremely surprised by the scope of the current proposed development and site layout including its incompatibility with the Highway 101 Greenbrae/Twin Cities Corridor Improvement Project."
Members of the MacFarlane group and designer Thomas P. Cox Architects frowned and gritted their teeth while Steinhauser made her statement from the podium.
The proposed flyover, expected to stand 50 feet over ground level, could grab up to 35 feet of frontage road property. That would put part of the WinCup property in the path of the flyover. Proponents of the WinCup site development feared TAM might go ahead with its highway project and condemn at least part of the property, claiming eminent domain.
TAM can't stop the WinCup development from being built, though, according to Bracken.
Steinhauser said TAM is trying to limit the amount of property the flyover project would take. The current proposal would take 22 feet along southbound Highway 101, affecting businesses along Nellen Avenue.
Officials for the Town of Corte Madera dispute TAM gave them all the up-to-date details as the flyover project was being developed. They further suggested they might have approached the WinCup development differently if they had the full details from TAM.
The mixed-use complex with 3,000 square feet of retail business space and 180 apartments and townhouse to be built on the 4.5-acre site. The developer revised and slightly scaled back the original design, which was reviewed by the Planning Commission last month.
Ten percent of the apartments at the development have been earmarked for below market-rate housing. The residences include one-, two- and three-bedroom units, ranging from nearly 800 square feet to more than 1,000 square feet. The property would include 12 low-income, one-bedroom units, four very low-income, one-bedroom units and two moderate-income, two-bedroom units.
Daniel Gehman of Thomas P. Cox Architects was clearly proud of the green design of the complex, which is expected to be certified at least silver in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for its use of photovoltaic cells, rainwater collection systems, etc. The architect, who announced he recently bought a Nissan electric car, said MacFarlane Partners are talking with ZipCar to bring electric vehicles and charging stations to the property.
"We'll need to have charging stations. How else would I park my Leaf when I come here?" he asked with a wide grin across his face.
Planning Commission members expressed their own concerns over traffic, parking, hazardous waste cleanup at the former styrofoam production site and conflicts with TAM. They acknowledged, however, that designers have met the basic standards that were asked of them during a Nov. 9 workshop. Commission members did ask designers to go above and beyond the current proposal in the spirit of community involvement.
"On the whole I'm in agreement with the design," Commission Chairman Bruce Mace said. "I wish there was a magic placebo for traffic."
MacFarlane designers offered to have a traffic coordinator work with the town to mitigate any problems. As midnight drew near, however, the representatives from MacFarlane Partners couldn't hide their irritation with questions, complaints and demands about the project.
Neighbors near Tamal Vista Boulevard were overwhelmingly opposed to the design, primarily because of fears over safety and increased traffic.
"I drive the roads all the time. The traffic has only gotten worse over the years," said Cynthia Varner, a 25-year resident of Corte Madera. "This will only make it much worse than it is today. I also some interest in the air quality impacts … and the noise impacts. … The roadway infrastructure … is very limited, it's very narrow. It doesn't support a complex like this in my opinion."
Developers said they have already commissioned a noise study and that is the responsibility of the former owner of the property to pay for the cleanup of any toxic materials found on the site.
The appearance of the project design didn't win over too many fans at Tuesday's meeting.
"This is a design by someone who I think has never designed anything for a small town. If you were doing urban renewal which is something MacFarlane has done, it probably would look better than the blighted area that it would be replacing. But Corte Madera isn't a blighted area," said Phyllis Galanis of Prince Royal Drive. "I take issue with the colors they have chosen. If you want to put it in a city, put it in downtown San Rafael, which is a city. But this is a town and I don't think this structure has anything to do with a small town."
"This high-density … apartment complex is not appropriate for Corte Madera," said Lois Kline of Sandpiper Circle. "This appears to be more like a public housing project. The painted, clown-like patchwork look does not fit in with the surroundings. The houses in Corte Madera are only one or two stories high and painted tastefully in neutral colors.
"If each apartment in this complex has two cars this will add more 360 cars to this already congested area. This will be adding to the gridlock we already have. There are 1,502 students at Redwood High School and this is not contain Hall Middle School. During their commute hours each student is either driving a car or being picked up, so it's already congested.
"The unrelenting freeway noise will result in tenants moving in and being forced to move out in order to keep their hearing and their sanity. This is not an appropriate location for an apartment building."