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Mill Valley developer pitches 28 condos for 9-unit site

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The property at 500 Miller Ave. in Mill Valley has been approved for residential and retail development along one of the city’s busiest corridors. (James Cacciatore/Special to the Marin Independent Journal)

By ADRIAN RODRIGUEZ | | Marin Independent Journal PUBLISHED: July 4, 2018 at 1:51 pm | UPDATED: July 23, 2018 at 11:35 am

Mill Valley residents are crying foul over a proposal to build 28 condominiums in place of a previously approved, but never built, nine-unit complex.

“I thought nine was a lot, but 28, no, that’s not right,” said resident Ann Flynn, who lives on the hill behind the 1.6-acre site at 500 Miller Ave. “Traffic is already god awful, and where are they going to park?”

Mill Valley developer Agustin Maxemin purchased the land last year for $2.9 million when excavation work had already begun. Al Von der Werth, the previous owner, had gained city approval to build a nine-unit, 32,000-square-foot mixed-use project at the Miller Avenue site at Reed Street.

Considering that the city is encouraging development of affordable housing due to a shortage, Maxemin said he saw it as an opportunity to provide just that. “This is the ideal location for it,” Maxemin said, noting that it’s near a bus stop and on a main city corridor, not too far from the freeway. “I thought I have to give it a shot.” Maxemin said 25 percent of his project would be offered at affordable rates. In this case, that would equal seven affordable units.

Maxemin has submitted a pre-application for his project, which would also feature about 5,000 square feet of retail space. He is working with city planning staff to schedule a workshop “study session” with the Planning Commission to solicit feedback on his plan so far. In the meantime, the site excavation and preparation will continue.

Kari Svanstrom, interim planning director, said that the approved project remains valid and Maxemin can move forward with that plan as approved, if he so chooses.

“I know we are encouraging, and the applicant is continuing, to look at additional options/configurations for the project design as it is in a very preliminary stage,” she said in an email. Maxemin is still sorting out the details, but said the project would be a similar height and mass as the original proposal, but that each unit would be smaller.

The Von der Werth project called for condominiums ranging from 1,220 square feet to 1,530 square feet, each with two parking spaces. It included a commercial building that would have included approximately 2,000 square feet of retail space and 3,000 square feet of office space and another 23 designated parking spaces.

Neighbors are fearful that 19 more units means many more cars coming in and out of the neighborhood that is already jam-packed with traffic.

“The idea of more cars gives me the shivers,” said Abby Wasserman, who lives in the nearby unincorporated neighborhood, about a block off Reed Street.

She said that she loves what the city did with the recent reconstruction of Miller Avenue, because “traffic flows better and it’s safer for pedestrians,” and that 28 new condos would not compliment that work.

Resident Bob Cogswell said “high-density housing does not belong on Miller,” and is “shocked” to hear that the developer is pitching a plan for a larger project. Cogswell pointed out that last year the Mill Valley community and the Planning Commission panned a proposal for 20 townhouses at the corner of East Blithedale Avenue and Camino Alto. “How does he expect this to fly?” he said. Maxemin, who moved to Mill Valley with his family in 1995, is the president and owner of Armax Corp. His company has completed several local Bay Area projects, including the 62 townhouse and single-family home development at DeSilva Island on Richardson Bay near Strawberry.

“It’s important that people know that I am local and I want to get the best project approved,” he said. “I want to do something that is more compatible with the site.” In the late 1950s, the Miller Avenue property at Reed Street was used as a quarry to provide fill material for the marshlands. It gained local notoriety in 1969 when a landslide from the hill covered Miller Avenue.

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