"We're thrilled to have garnered the Council's unanimous approval of our project, and we're excited to focus on making the Mill Valley Lumber Yard a space that our neighbors and the larger community will be proud of," Matt and Jan Mathews said. "Thanks to everyone who has helped shape the project into what it is today, particularly our neighbors."
The approval comes just over one month after the Planning Commission's unanimous recommendation to the Council to approve the project, with a number of conditions of approval attached that are largely related to parking and infrastructure improvements. The approval comes two years after the project first went to the Commission in a Study Session, and the widespread sentiment Monday night was that the project was better for the deep level of engagement from the community and the City.
“Had we gotten a rubber stamp and we got through earlier, we wouldn’t have been able to meet all of you, so we’re grateful for that,” Matt Mathews said at the hearing.
The Mill Valley Lumber Yard is a 42,500-square-foot site at 129 Miller Avenue with 17,616 square feet of existing building space, which includes the existing Guideboat, Ambatalia and Bloomingayles retail shops. The site is located between the inbound and outbound lanes of Miller Avenue. Matt and Jan Mathews bought the property in 2012 from the Cerri family, which had owned and maintained it as a lumber yard and True Value hardware store for the previous 14 years. The property was built by lumber magnate Robert Dollar in 1892 as Dollar Lumber Company.
The Mathews, who have hosted five neighborhood meetings about the project and presented at informal "study sessions" before the Commission in 2013 and 2014, previously renovated some of the buildings and plan to upgrade others. Those buildings are primarily at the southeast half of the property and include a proposed small cafe/restaurant, as well as some retail, offices and an artist-in-residence space, in addition to what's there now. Several attendees of the hearing lauded the project's community-oriented goals of supporting local small businesses.
“With high rents and a low number of vacancies, retail leasing in Marin is really challenging,” said Brian Foster, a commercial real estate broker with Cushman Wakefield. “It’s harder and harder for small businesses to succeed in the marketplace, as it’s easier for larger stores with multiple locations to spread their costs out and be viable. It’s really refreshing to see people who are investing in their community and supporting local businesses.”
Because of the size and scope of the project, the City Council had to approve its environmental review – in this case, an Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration (IS/MND), as well as a re-zoning from RM, Residential Multi-Family, to NC, Neighborhood Commercial with PD, Planned Development Overlay and HO, Historic Zoning Overlays. The property is designated as part of the downtown commercial area within the MV2040 General Plan, the City’s constitution of sorts that was approved by the Council in late 2013.
At Planning Commission hearings on March 29 and June 14, the Mathews addressed many of the concerns from neighbors and City officials, but parking and noise remain the primary hurdles for the project. The City applied a number of conditions of approval to the project, including that the Mathews must pay for a feasibility study on a residential parking permit program for the neighborhood and create delineated parking on and around the Presidio Avenue median before additional tenants can occupy the project. That parking would be limited to between two and four hours.
“It’s a really good project, and while I’m very sensitive to the neighborhood concerns, I believe that we have strategies to address those issues,” Councilwoman Stephanie Moulton-Peters said. “Mill Valley has always been very thoughtful about how we do things and this is no exception.”