The City already has a street and subdivision called Blithedale Terrace, and that neighborhood has requested that the new project go by a different name.
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The project applicant has submitted a new application, which the City has accepted for processing. This application is subject to the current rules in place today, including state regulations and city regulations such as the City's adopted General Plan "MV2040", Multi-Family Design Guidelines, and Zoning requirements (also called Development Standards) for projects of this type.
Previous applications have been withdrawn. However, that does not mean that the City and decision-makers are not aware of the extensive history surrounding the project.
In 2010, the City of Mill Valley did prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for a similar version of this project, then known as Blithedale Terrace. That 2010 Blithedale Terrace project was not approved and that prior 2010 EIR was not certified. For the current project, the City has carefully followed the environmental review process as established under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and as specifically provided under CEQA Guidelines Section 15060 through 15065. Based on these applicable provisions of CEQA, the City has prepared an Initial Study/CEQA Checklist to determine whether the Project may have a significant effect on the environment.
The Initial Study/CEQA Checklist provides information and analysis that supports a determination that the project qualifies as an Infill Development project as defined in CEQA Guidelines Section 15332, and is therefore categorically exempt from any further CEQA review. The information and analysis included in the Initial Study also substantiates a conclusion that no exceptions to this CEQA exemption apply to the project.
Furthermore, the Initial Study/CEQA checklist provides information and analysis that demonstrates the project is consistent with the Mill Valley 2040 General Plan and applicable zoning regulations, and therefore qualifies under CEQA Guidelines Section 15183 as a project that is consistent with a community plan or general plan. These provisions of CEQA are intended to streamline the environmental review of certain types of projects, and to reduce the need to prepare repetitive environmental studies. Such projects do not require additional environmental review beyond that conducted for the General Plan EIR, except as necessary to examine whether there are project-specific significant effects that may be peculiar to the project or its site. The Initial Study/CEQA Checklist provides analysis that supports a determination that the project would not result in new or more severe significant environmental effects than were previously addressed in the prior Mill Valley 2040 General Plan EIR, and that the project will not have any project-specific significant effects that are peculiar to the project or its site.
Unless the Mill Valley Planning Commission and/or the Mill Valley City Council disagree, the Initial Study/CEQA Checklist is the most appropriate approach for CEQA documentation of the Project. It fully analyzes the environmental impacts of the project and provides substantial evidence to support a conclusion that the Project is exempt from CEQA under CEQA Guidelines Sections 15332, and is eligible for CEQA streamlining provisions under CEQA Guidelines Section 15183. If the Mill Valley Planning Commission and/or the Mill Valley City Council disagrees, that circumstance would trigger preparation of a Mitigated Negative Declaration or an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project.
Yes, a detailed Traffic Operations Study for the project has been conducted, but it is not included in the CEQA document for the reasons explained below.
In 2013, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 743, which added Public Resources Code Section 21099 to CEQA and changed the way that transportation impacts are analyzed under CEQA. These changes were intended to better align local environmental review with statewide objectives to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, encourage infill mixed-use development in designated priority development areas, reduce regional sprawl development, and reduce vehicle miles traveled in California. Senate Bill 743 states that, “VMT is a more appropriate measure than automobile delay, and that automobile delay as measured by intersection level of service is not an impact on the environment”. Consistent with SB 743, the latest CEQA Guidelines from the State Office of Planning and Research (OPR) published in December 2018 require the use of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and prohibit the use of level of service (LOS) or other congestion-based metrics in CEQA documents after July 2020. Accordingly, the CEQA Checklist/Initial Study does not include a transportation analysis that measures traffic congestion on the roadway, level of service at intersection, travel delay, queue length or any other metric based on a level of service standard for measuring the transportation effects of the Project. Rather, a comprehensive VMT analysis was prepared for the project and forms the basis for determining traffic impacts under CEQA.
Nevertheless, the City did commission a separate report, the Traffic Operations Study for the Blithedale Project (prepared by W-Trans, September 14, 2022) to address General Plan policy matters related to traffic operations. This separate Traffic Operations study presents an analysis of the potential traffic-related effects that could be anticipated with development of the project and was completed in accordance with the criteria established in the Mill Valley General Plan. The purpose of the Transportation Operations study is to provide City staff, policy makers and the public with data regarding the project’s adherence to city policies. Vehicular traffic service levels at key intersections are evaluated for consistency with General Plan policies by determining the number of new trips that the proposed project would be expected to generate, distributing these trips to the surrounding street system based on anticipated travel patterns specific to the proposed project, then analyzing the effect the new traffic would be expected to have on the study intersections and need for improvements to maintain acceptable operation. Adequacy of parking is also addressed as a policy issue.
Click here to review the Traffic Operations Study for the project.
The Housing Accountability Act (HAA), Government Code section 65589.5, establishes limitations to a local government’s ability to deny, reduce the density of, or make infeasible housing development projects, emergency shelters, or farmworker housing that are consistent with objective local development standards and contribute to meeting housing need. The Legislature first enacted the HAA in 1982 and recently amended the HAA to expand and strengthen its provisions as part of the overall recognition of the critically low volumes of housing in California. In amending the HAA, the Legislature made repeated findings that the lack of housing and the lack of affordable housing, is a critical problem that threatens the economic, environmental, and social quality of life in California. More information on the HAA can be found here.
SB 330 limited the ability of cities and counties to reduce the permitted density on property designated for residential uses absent a concurrent density increase on other property, prohibited cities from enforcing caps on housing development, streamlined the review of certain entitlements for housing projects, allowed for vesting of city and county land use policies and fees for housing projects, limited the number of hearings concerning certain housing projects, and required replacement of certain “protected units.” The text of SB 330 (Government Code Section 65589.5) can be found here.
The Density Bonus Law (found in California Government Code Sections 65915 – 65918) provides developers with tools to encourage the development of affordable and senior housing, including up to a 50% increase in project densities for most projects, depending on the amount of affordable housing provided. The Density Bonus is a state mandate. A developer who meets the requirements of the state law is entitled to receive the density bonus and other benefits as a matter of right. As with any State mandate, some local governments will resist complying with the State requirement. But many local governments favor the density bonus as a helpful tool to encourage continued diversity of housing, income levels and lifestyles within their communities.