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On the Tam Ridge Residences (WinCup Redevelopment)

January 7, 2018

  • Tam Ridge Residences is more dense than it needed to be, due to incorrect numbers from ABAG on required housing units. By the time those numbers were corrected, it was too late to downsize the project

  • Future developments in Corte Madera will not be this dense, now that we have learned that such density is actually not required

  • While the project eases pressure on Corte Madera to build more residences in the immediate future, it's a poor excuse for affordable housing, with a mere 10% of units discounted—and still very expensive

  • Once the apartments are fully occupied, the Town should conduct a traffic study to compare the actual impact with the development's forecasted impacts

 

The Tam Ridge Residences development, on the site of the former WinCup factory, remains one of the most controversial issues in Corte Madera right now—and rightly so.

 

While the project has some definite upsides, its conception left much to be desired, and its implementation will present several distinct challenges to the community. Then there's the actual delivery of the project, errors in the construction of which were nothing short of scandalous.

GREATER FORCES AT PLAY

 

Let's start this analysis by looking at the project as a whole. Perhaps more than anything else, the Tam Ridge Residences represents the forces of change that are pressing on our town and other towns like ours.

 

We live in a dynamic and fast-evolving era, with rapid advancements in technology spurring rapid changes in society. The tech industry that's driving all this change is based largely here, in the Bay Area, bringing an influx of money and people to the region.

 

All that growth creates pressure on local cities and towns, and we see the effects of that pressure in projects like the Tam Ridge Residences, which create higher density housing than has historically existed in Corte Madera. It's a natural reaction to the region's robust economy—and creates a natural tension with the small-town identity of Corte Madera.

 

The Tam Ridge Residences aren't so much an imposition of a new character on Corte Madera as a reflection of the direction Bay Area communities are likely to move in the coming decades. For those of us who cherish Corte Madera's small-town charm and intimate feel, it can be an understandably distressing and unwelcome change to witness. In the coming years, protecting our community's identity will be an increasingly important cause for us to advance together.

 

Having understood the larger forces that led to the creation of the Tam Ridge Residences, let's examine the effects that the project can be expected to have on our town.

 

HARNESSING CHANGE TO OUR ADVANTAGE

 

Thanks in part to the tech boom, the entire state of California is suffering from a critical housing shortage, creating a situation recognized by economists and the state government as a threat to our economic health. Corte Madera has virtually no land left to build on, but by allowing some higher-density developments like the Tam Ridge Residences, we can do our part to help relieve the housing crisis. Increasing the housing supply will also help rein in the skyrocketing cost of living, making life in Corte Madera more affordable for all its residents.

 

In turn, the new residents who move into the Tam Ridge Residences will fuel the local economy, advancing all Corte Maderans' economic interests and expanding the Town's tax base, reducing the burden on everyone who already lives here. Moreover, each new resident represents a new potential customer for our local stores and businesses. The community as a whole stands to benefit from this economic growth.

 

Closing Corte Madera off entirely to medium-density housing wouldn't just be economically unwise; it would also be unethical. Low-income individuals and families are among those hardest hit by the housing crisis, boxed out by the soaring prices of homes on the market. Thanks to state laws requiring that new housing developments contain rent-controlled units, 18 units at Tam Ridge Residences will become home to those less fortunate than the average Corte Maderan. I, for one, stand ready to welcome them into our community.

 

Despite the potential benefits, there are large swaths of our beloved town for which higher-density construction will never be appropriate. Corte Madera is a small town, and our tight-knit community is fiercely protective of that identity. This is not something we should compromise on, but thankfully, we don't have to.

 

Instead, we can channel vertical growth to the parts of our town for which larger buildings are most appropriate: along Highway 101. This is one thing that the Tam Ridge Residences certainly got right, for a number of reasons.

 

First, the land along Highway 101 is better suited to higher density development than the town's interior. Most of us wouldn't have chosen for the freeway to cut directly through our town, but since it does, we can use slightly larger buildings to create a buffer between the chaos of the freeway and the more picturesque interior of the town.

 

Second, by locating such developments near the freeway, we can reduce their impact on traffic throughout town. More residents inevitably means more cars on the road, but if those residents commute—and most of them will—situating them close to the freeway means they won't have to drive through town on their way to and from work. Tam Ridge Residences is immediately adjacent to the freeway.

 

Finally, there's an environmental case to be made for allowing some denser construction in our town. Development and habitat destruction is a major threat to the local ecosystem, and by building up rather than out, we can preserve land that might otherwise be built on. In addition to the ecological benefits, less sprawl means more natural open space for the entire community to enjoy—and we Corte Maderans do enjoy our nature.

 

These are the ways in which the Tam Ridge Residences development seems to be in sync with the economic interests and moral values of our community—now let's examine some of the lessons we learned from the development, and the challenges it might present.

 

LESSONS LEARNED AND CHALLENGES AHEAD

 

Regardless of how one feels about the Tam Ridge Residences, the project was marred by many shortcomings throughout its conception and delivery.

 

For starters, many residents felt they were not adequately informed of just what was going to be built on the old WinCup site. A subsequent grand jury report theorized that because the project was anticipated in the Town's General Plan, local officials assumed going out of their way to make sure everyone was aware of the development plans was unnecessary—a presumption belied by the often sparse attendance at regular Town Council meetings discussing the development, which indicated that residents didn't realize the gravity of the project.

 

But in a small town like Corte Madera, a large project like the Tam Ridge Residences is hugely consequential, and it should have been obvious that extraordinary public outreach efforts were warranted. Just because it was in the General Plan doesn't mean most members of the public were aware of its size, and Corte Maderans have every right to be outraged by the lack of public notice surrounding the Tam Ridge Residences.

 

Members of the public weren't the only ones who felt misled. During planning, ABAG (the Association of Bay Area Governments, a regional planning agency) grossly over-quoted the number of housing units that Corte Madera needed to build. This grave error was a major driver behind the size of the project, and by the time ABAG corrected itself, it was far too late to shrink the development. For some, this necessarily calls into question the value of ABAG.

 

Even with far more units than were actually required, the Tam Ridge Residences has outraged fair housing proponents with its relative lack of affordable units, especially in light of its sky-high starting rents. Just 10% of the development's units—the bare minimum—are below market rate, representing a missed opportunity to create a more equitable and inclusive community. More affordable housing would also help contain the cost of living here, by creating local demand for lower-cost goods and services.

 

Problems continued to stalk the project, including the shocking discovery of structural and waterproofing deficiencies little more than a year into construction. These construction flaws were totally unacceptable, further eroding public confidence in the project as a whole and prolonging construction by more than a year.

 

We've learned valuable lessons from each of these problems, but now that the scandal-plagued planning and construction phases are behind us, it's time to turn our attention to the challenges that the Tam Ridge Residences will present when the development is complete and occupied.

 

The most prominent of these issues is traffic. While the traffic situation in town will undoubtedly benefit from the fact that the development is close to the freeway, more residents of Corte Madera does mean more traffic. As a rule of thumb, any growth in population should come with commensurate investment in transit infrastructure—but that side of the equation seems to be largely missing from the Tam Ridge Residences.

 

Traffic, especially on Tamal Vista, was already a problem before the Tam Ridge Residences, and it should be expected that the arrival of hundreds of new residents will make the situation worse. In response to the construction errors and delays, the Town was right to demand $8,000 from the developer to fund a traffic study, but we need more than just studies—we need higher capacity roadways and, more importantly, some credible public transit.

 

In a similar vein, a large housing development supporting hundreds of residents draws on other town infrastructure, including the water mains, the sewer system, and the electrical grid. Parts of these systems were already outdated and in need of replacement, but the added burden of the Tam Ridge Residences will require that we come up with a realistic and affordable plan to begin upgrading our systems now. 

 

It's time for our community to come together and address these challenges constructively. Some don't feel the Tam Ridge Residences development is appropriate to our town, while others are supportive of the change it represents—but regardless of where one falls on this spectrum, the development is now a reality. In light of that fact, it's time to focus not on fighting past battles, but on learning from our shared experiences.

 

As a member of this community who cherishes both Corte Madera's small-town charm and its forward-looking ethos, I think the Tam Ridge Residences offers both marked successes and failures we must never repeat, and I look forward to helping our town put these lessons to good use in the years to come.

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