Marin County supervisors approved $500,000 for an affordable housing project in downtown Bolinas.
The money from the county’s affordable housing fund will go to the Bolinas Community Land Trust. The supervisors also gave the land trust permission to transfer $110,000 to the project at 31 Wharf Road that the county had previously provided for another project.
The Planning Commission approved the Wharf Road project on April 12, but a neightbor appealed the approval to the Board of Supervisors. That appeal, which cited concerns about the bulk and mass of the development, water and sewer service, and access, was unanimously denied by the supervisors on June 8, 2021.
Commenting at the time, Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said the project had become “divisive in the community,” but he voiced his support for it nonetheless.
“Our coastal affordable housing need is so crucial,” Rodoni said, “that we can’t ignore that issue among the other issues that have been raised. I’m deeply concerned that this project getting delayed could kill it.”
Molly Kron, a county senior planner, told supervisors on June 21 that opposition to the Wharf Road project had delayed it and resulted in higher costs.
“So the additional $500,000 is to support construction costs given those increases,” Kron said.
The project calls for the construction of nine, two- and three-bedroom units on a 2.5-acre parcel in the downtown business district. Most of Bolinas, with the exception of its downtown, is zoned for single-family housing.
The units would be located in a pair of two-story buildings, each standing about 33 feet tall. Two commercial spaces with frontage along Wharf Road would be located on the ground floor.
One of those spaces would become the land trust’s new office. Its office on Brighton Avenue was damaged by a fire in 2020. Sixteen parking spaces are planned, provided in underground and ground-level parking areas.
There have been a couple of changes in the project due to the increased costs caused by construction delays. The number of units has been increased from eight to nine and the affordability of the units has been altered somewhat.
Originally the plan was to reserve the units for households with extremely low, very low and low incomes as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Now, units will be reserved for households with very low and low incomes, but not households with extremely low incomes.
To qualify as extremely low income, a household of four must have an annual income of $55,900 or less. To qualify as very low income, a household of four must have an annual income of $93,200 or less. And to qualify as low income, a household of four can earn up to $149,100 per year.
According to the land trust, skyrocketing home and rental unit prices have forced many families to leave Bolinas, “especially essential workforce employees such as emergency responders, teachers and health care workers.” The land trust has 200 households on its waiting list for affordable housing.
Another hurdle the Wharf Road project has had to contend with is water supply. The site is already served by the Bolinas Community Public Utility District so a moratorium on new water connections, in effect since 1971, won’t hinder the project. Nevertheless, the water district limits water use on new projects to 224 gallons per day for an entire building, which would be insufficient for the nine units and commercial spaces.
The land trust is seeking permission to transfer a larger water use limit at one of its other properties — the Gibson House at 20 Wharf Road — to the new property. The land trust is also looking at the possibility of using water from a recently drilled well at the Wharf Road site.
Bolinas Community Public Utility District has estimated the project’s total development cost to be $9.7 million. It is getting $4.4 million in funding from a local anonymous donor and $750,000 from the Marin Community Foundation.
This isn’t the first round of financing the project has received from the county. In November 2019, supervisors gave the land trust $400,000 form the county’s affordable housing fund to help finance the Wharf Road project and a project on a 20-acre parcel adjacent to the Tacherra Ranch on Mesa Road. The $110,000 reappropriated to the Wharf Road project had been earmarked for this project.
The trust plans to build two houses and one second unit on the Mesa Road parcel, which is allowable under the current zoning. Each house would have four bedroom suites, and each suite would be equipped with its own kitchenette. The trust intends to build a separate building that would house two larger kitchens that people living in the houses would share.
The 20-acre parcel is bound by a Williamson Act agreement, which reduces the amount of property tax paid on the property as long as it is used for agriculture or related open space purposes. One of the predevelopment hurdles is making sure the project complies with the agreement.
In her staff report, county planner Kron wrote, “the Mesa Road project has been slow to proceed.”