In one of Bay Area's wealthiest cities, residents push back against mixed-income housing proposal

Developers say the plan is necessary, in a city that hasn't had low-income housing built in more than 30 years.
BELVEDERE, Calif. (KGO) -- Even the wealthiest cities in the Bay Area are not immune to California's aggressive push for new housing.

A new, mixed-income housing development has been proposed for the ritzy Marin County city of Belvedere, which is one of the wealthiest cities in the country.

The developers say it will add desperately-needed housing options in a city that hasn't had low-income housing built in more than 30 years.

But many residents are resistant to the new plan. Some are concerned about environmental issues and additional traffic, and others say it will unfairly displace people already living at the site.

"The rich people who don't want houses - That's not what it is," Jane Cooper, a Belvedere resident who is against the proposal, told ABC7 News. "Belvedere residents are for affordable housing. This just isn't it."

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The project would rebuild a development at Mallard Pointe, which is located on the lagoon in Belvedere. It's currently made up of 22 rental units that were built in 1951.

The new proposal would tear down these duplexes for an upgraded development that would ultimately add 20 new units, including some low-income housing.

"We're adding an incremental 20 units, which in the scheme of things is not a tremendous amount of housing," Eric Hohmann, the developer of the Mallard Pointe 1951 project, told ABC7 News. "But for Belvedere, which has produced less than two units of housing per year for the last 20 years, it's significant."

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The project, if approved by the city, would create a total of 42 housing units that would include a mix of single-family homes, duplexes, accessory dwelling units and apartments. Four of the apartments would be designated for low-income housing.

Hohmann said a family of four with a combined household income of $150,000 or less would qualify to live there. He said some of the other units, including the accessory dwelling units and one-bedroom apartments, could be affordable options for people as well.

But Cooper said four affordable housing units is not enough.

"This isn't the number we're looking for," Cooper said. "Four small units doesn't help the 22 units of people getting displaced."

Cooper has joined a neighborhood group called "Belvedere Residents for Intelligent Growth," which is fighting to stop the new development.

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In a statement, resident John Hansen, who is the chair of the group, called the project "a wolf in sheep's clothing."

"It is primarily a plan to build and sell more multi-million dollar housing under the guise of affordability," Hansen said. "In the meantime, the developer would be tearing down 22 units occupied by seniors and young families to accomplish what, exactly?"

Hohmann, who is developing the housing project in partnership with Thompson Dorfman Partners LLC, said they plan to give current tenants of the development $6,500 in relocation funds when they are displaced during construction. He said those residents will be given priority to return to the property and $7,000 towards rent if they do.

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Hohmann believes the resistance to the development is rooted in NIMBY-ism.

"There's resistance to change and I understand that," Hohmann said. "That's why if it weren't for the new state laws, doing something like this wouldn't be possible."

Homann is referring to new state laws -- SB9 and SB330 -- requiring cities across the state to add a certain amount of new housing. Marin County needs to add over 14,000 new units. Belvedere, which tried to ask for an exemption but was denied, is responsible for 160.

"In some of the smaller jurisdictions it will be a challenge, but it's a challenge we need to meet with this growing population," Jillian Zeiger, the senior planner at Marin County's Community Development Agency, told ABC7 News.

"There are people who work in those communities who are commuting 2-3 hours to get there to be gardeners, to clean houses, to take care of people, to be nannies, and it's really the responsibility of all of the Bay Area to house people responsibly," she added.

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Belvedere city manager Craig Middleton said of the 160 new units that the city is required to build, 49 need to be very low-income units, 28 low-income units, 23 moderate income units and 60 units can be above moderate income.

He said currently there are no new developments planned.

"We will be identifying sites for housing in coming months," Middleton said. "The city has very few buildable vacant sites; we're essentially built out. So, it will be a difficult task to identify places for 160 new units of housing."

For that reason, Hohmann is hopeful their proposal will get approved. The developers are submitting their application to the city this week.

"If you really are for intelligent growth," Hohmann said, "If not here, where? If not now, when?"

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