Update from Kate - Decision on Medical Office Space in Strawberry

District 3 News Logo

Update from Kate

My Decision on Medical Offices at Belvedere Place:
What It Means for Strawberry and Southern Marin

I want to explain my vote on the Bently Holdings matter as you may be hearing from residents adamantly opposed to medical offices at Belvedere Place. Here's what happened and why.

Land use matters are complicated and the Bently Master Plan Amendment to permit medical offices at Belvedere Place is no exception. Given our traffic challenges in Southern Marin, it was extremely important to me to get a reliable traffic analysis that looked at the right roadways and intersections, and asked the right questions. It took months, and many tries, to get the information we needed, to the frustration of all. I also wanted to hear from Caltrans, the City of Mill Valley, and Strawberry neighbors and residents.

At the end of the day, I was able to support the Bently Holdings application, in its final form, because the amount of medical office space was significantly reduced, such that traffic impacts will be minimal, and although not required to do so, the applicant agreed to provide much needed funding for traffic calming and pedestrian safety improvements at the Belvedere Drive/Reed Blvd intersection that will benefit the Strawberry community.

Public comments made clear that Belvedere Drive residents are particularly concerned about existing traffic conditions on their street. I've been giving a lot of thought to how the County could be helpful in addressing their concerns. Even though the applicant is not legally required to fix those problems, I saw an opportunity for them to contribute to improving traffic conditions in their own neighborhood.

For that reason, I asked the applicant if they'd be willing to provide $280,000 to fund improvements at the Belvedere Drive/Reed Blvd intersection. Belvedere Drive residents have long requested measures to discourage and slow cut-through traffic and enhance pedestrian safety. This funding will make possible traffic calming and pedestrian safety measures, including bulb outs, pedestrian refuge areas, a narrower street entry at Belvedere Drive, and high visibility crosswalks.

The applicant also is required under County ordinance to pay a traffic impact fee in the amount of $290,281 which must be used for specific improvements in the zone in and around Strawberry. Future improvements at the Redwood Frontage Road/Reed Blvd/Tiburon Blvd area are the likely use for this kind of impact fee.

Some members of the public urged me to vote against this application at every step. But reading the "tea leaves" I believed I could be on the losing end of the Board of Supervisors vote and that I would achieve nothing for the community by voting "no." Instead, I fought to get reliable traffic data, to reduce the amount of medical office use, and to obtain traffic calming and pedestrian safety benefits for the Strawberry community.

At the beginning, the applicant proposed entirely eliminating the Bently Master Plan condition against medical office use, potentially opening up the entire 99,850 square feet at Belvedere Place for medical offices. My office alerted the community so that concerns could be raised, studied and discussed. The applicant subsequently reduced its request to 47,500 square feet – an amount that still raised traffic concerns for many. At the end, the applicant reduced the request to 25,000 square feet.

Keep in mind that, although Belvedere Place is not fully occupied now, under the existing Master Plan, the owner has the right to fully lease the buildings for office use. So the issue with this application boiled down to the impact of changing 25,000 square feet of professional office space to medical offices. The most recent traffic analysis indicated that this amount of medical offices would have a negligible change to the level of service (LOS) – the time cars are delayed at a traffic light - on Redwood Frontage Road at the Tiburon Blvd intersection.

Unlike the urgent care center that has opened in the Strawberry Village Shopping Center as a permitted use, this application provided us an opportunity to fully consider traffic impacts, figure out how to limit these impacts, and obtain a community benefit. That is a better outcome than what might have happened had I simply voted "no."

While some may disagree with my decision, I wanted you to understand my thinking. I look forward to working with Belvedere Drive residents on improvements for the Belvedere Drive/Reed Blvd intersection. I hope you will feel welcome to write to me at ksears@marincounty.org.