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Seminary Tomorrow

The Formation of a Community Advisory Committee

Following North Coast’s purchase of the former Baptist Seminary property, an initial plan focused on helping a local secondary school secure a more viable campus.  The Strawberry community opposed elements of the initial plan.  The primary concern was traffic; other concerns included maintaining the community character, preserving open space, responding to demographic changes in the region and ensuring durability.

Marin County officials identified a growing need for diversity in housing types, stating that, “the insistence on continued single-family development is a thing of the past”, and reinforced a desire to reimagine the site without “the constraints of trying to force it into the continuation of the [historic] Seminary use” or a decades-old master plan.  This ultimately led to the secondary school’s withdrawal from the project and the expiration of the 1984 Master Plan, reverting the Seminary site to its base residential zoning with a conditional use permit overlay allowing a college/university campus for approximately 1,000 students.

North Coast, untethered from the constraints of the 1984 Master Plan, began to examine other possibilities for the site.  The Marin County Planning Commission encouraged this re-examination through a fresh lens without the restrictions of the 1984 Master Plan.  Commissioner John Eller stated, “I believe that this will frame the approval process for this development more appropriately, i.e. that the developer, community, and the process should recognize the eventual changes to this property are rooted in the [1953] Use Permit for both an academic institution and a residential component.”

In response to the preceding series of events, Marin County Supervisor Kathrin Sears charged both North Coast and the Strawberry community to “get real…to come out of their corners, stop trying to throw up roadblocks or maximize their perceived entitlements, be open to learning what a clarified, defined proposal means in terms of real, on the ground impacts, and be open to changing their minds.”

North Coast and a group of Strawberry community representatives (the “Community Caucus”) formed a working group and entered into professionally facilitated discussions, collectively calling themselves “Seminary Tomorrow.”

The community Caucus – Community Representatives

The Community Caucus consists of the following Strawberry residents who have been active with the Strawberry Community Association, Strawberry Design Review Board, Strawberry Recreation District Board, De Silva Island HOA, Seminary Cove HOA, and Seminary Neighborhood Association:

  • Josh Andresen
  • Julie Brown
  • Fran Corcoran
  • Bill Foss
  • Bob Hendry
  • David Leimsieder
  • Josh Sale
  • Barry Shafran

In addition, Seminary Tomorrow has been professionally facilitated by Marie Rainwater of Rainwater & Associates.

It should be noted that the Seminary Tomorrow process did not include community members who advocate for more affordable and workforce housing or other Strawberry residents who have expressed a wide range of concerns, preferences and ideas that differ from the priorities of the Community Caucus.

Evaluating Elements of a New Plan

The stated goal of Seminary Tomorrow was to collaborate on alterations to the redevelopment plan and reach consensus or qualified consensus on a new, reimagined development plan.  The original scope included 10 meetings taking place over several months.  Since the formation of Seminary Tomorrow, a significant effort was made by all parties that included:

  • Over 18 months of dialogue;
  • Over 50 meetings;
  • Hundreds of hours of communications;
  • Thousands of pages of materials prepared; and
  • Extensive analysis and response.

The Caucus analyzed a wide range of details, from overall land use and associated impacts to focused elements such as sidewalk design and architectural detail.  The new plan was conceived and analyzed by the Seminary Tomorrow group in segmented detail including:

  • Housing that addresses current regional shortages and unaffordability;
  • Density issues;
  • Housing for a local work force;
  • A housing alternative for a growing senior population in Marin;
  • Traffic impacts of the selected land uses;
  • The maintenance of open space;
  • Preservation of the few remaining ridgelines;
  • Preservation of long-established amenities such as the playing field and day care; and
  • Extensive discussion regarding various academic uses.

The nature of the site allowed for the development of these elements to be completely inclusionary and synergistic, creating a new kind of live/work/learn community that could become as a whole, greater than the sum of its parts.

A Summary of the Seminary Tomorrow Process Outcome

As a result of the Community Caucus’s input, there were several iterative changes to the redevelopment plan including:

  • Preserving open space, viewsheds and the remaining ridgeline
  • Developing trails and parks
  • Reducing proposed density
  • Adding senior housing
  • Reducing building heights
  • Refining design for noise and light exposure
  • Realigning residential units to increase screening and open space continuity

Significant improvements were made in North Coast’s proposed redevelopment plan through the Seminary Tomorrow process.

North Coast has submitted an alternative plan developed through Seminary Tomorrow that reduces the base RMP-2.47 unit count to 234 total units.

Due to the Community Caucus’s initial focus on potential traffic, the group enlisted an independent third-party traffic engineer, Parisi Transportation Consultants, to conduct a preliminary analysis of the existing site and potential land use scenarios and provide a baseline understanding of traffic impacts.

The Community Caucus also focused on multiple aspects of the residential plan including community character and density.  Each residential neighborhood was refined by Seminary Tomorrow and developed through an iterative process with multiple rounds of feedback and subsequent adjustments, producing a plan that conforms more closely to the Caucus’s desire for high-quality, low-impact residential development.

It is North Coast’s understanding that the balanced mix of proposed housing types addresses the Caucus’s initial goal of responding to regional housing needs while also maintaining local impacts at an acceptable level.

On October 16, 2019, the Community Caucus and North Coast concluded the Seminary Tomorrow process.

On December 7, 2019, North Coast held an open house in its library and presented to the neighbors this facilitated concept.  Materials presented can be found here.