It’s been more than 40 years that the owners of property on the southeastern tip of the Tiburon Peninsula have been trying to get approval for the development of upscale residential housing.
The project’s long and complicated history is characterized by back and forth law suits between the county, the owners of the property and an environmental group.
But the proposal moved a step closer to final approval Oct. 3 when the Marin County Board of Supervisors reluctantly — under court order — approved two out of four key elements needed for greenlighting the project.
Tiburon Peninsula is home to the towns of Tiburon, Belvedere and a portion of Corte Madera, but much of it is unincorporated. Richardson Bay separates the peninsula from the Marin County mainland. It is host to a number of rare and endangered flora species and home to ancient Native American rock carvings.
At stake is a 110-acre piece of land with 360-degree sweeping views of rolling hills, Angel Island and San Francisco, hiking trails and endangered plants and animals.
The current plan from the Martha Company, the owners of the property, calls for 34 single-family homes with 5,000–8,750 square feet on half-acre lots.
Nearly 75 acres of the 110-acre property would be offered for dedication to the Marin County Open Space District, which manages the county’s open-space preserves.
The owners of the property have also spent $6 million over the years, which includes three different environmental-impact reports, trying to get the project passed by Marin County.
THE BATTLE HEATS UP
The property was originally purchased by John Reed in 1912 and is now owned by the descendants of about 19–23 members of the Reed Family who comprise the Martha Company.
Fast forward to 1973, when things started to get complicated. That year, Marin County adopted a new Countywide Plan which put significant restrictions, including building height, on development near visually prominent ridgelines.
The following year, the county rezoned the Martha property, aligning it with the Countywide Plan effectively reducing the number of units allowed to be built there from several hundred units to 43 units.
In 1975, the Martha Company sued Marin County, contending that the rezoning constituted a “taking” of their property without just compensation.
In 1976, the parties settled in a judgment that permitted development of a minimum of 43 single-family homes on half-acre lots.
In the decades since then, Paul Smith, attorney for the Martha Co., accuses the county of setting deliberate “roadblocks” to stall the project, saying the county and Tiburon Open Space have used tactics to make the property less valuable so they can afford to buy it.
“I’ve been concerned for a long time that the county has a flagrant disregard for private property owners,” he said. Smith, former Mayor of Tiburon, took over the case for the Martha Co. in 2012. He was elected to the Tiburon Town Council in 2003 and has served on the Tiburon Design Review Board and Planning Commission.
Over the years, among the long list of disputed issues, the county rejected two separate environmental impact reports that the owners had compiled.
During a board meeting earlier this year, Marin County Supervisor Kate Sears said that more than half of the proposed homes would be built in an area designated by the county as a greenbelt. She said other unavoidable impacts involve: traffic noise, public safety, greenhouse gas emissions and biological impacts.
Tiburon housing vs. open space
1912: The property was purchased by John Reed from the county of Marin.
1963: Reed family members deed property to Martha Co., a family corporation, owned equally by the five branches of the Reed Family.
1973: Marin County adopts a new Countywide Plan with significant restrictions on development near visually prominent ridge lines.
1974: The county rezones the Martha property, aligning it with the Countywide Plan effectively reducing the project from several hundred units to 43 units.
1975: The Martha Company sues Marin County contending that the rezoning constitutes a “taking” of their property without just compensation.
1976: The parties settle under a consent judgment that permits development of a minimum of 43 single-family homes on half-acre lots.
1988: What was to become the Tiburon Open Space Committee is formed in response to proposed development of the property.
2006: Marin County sues in federal court to invalidate the 1976 judgment. Martha sues to enforce its 1976 judgment with Marin County. Tiburon neighbors sue Marin County, claiming the 1976 judgment never provided advance public notice.
2007: Federal judge upholds the 1976 judgment and orders the county to grant the minimum 43 half-acre lots.
2013: Marin County Board of Supervisors defer certification of environmental impact report, request more studies to properly assess the environmental impacts. Trust for Public Land, a nationally known land preservation group, announces it is interested in acquiring the Martha property and donating it to Marin County as open space.
2014: The board of supervisors again declines to certify the environmental impact report citing a lack of specificity about the actual project. Municipal water district finds the proposed design for the water tank to be unacceptable.
2016: A federal court ruled that Martha must submit new plans for the water tank. Martha files in federal court, claiming the county has not moved fast enough to process their development. Martha also claims others, including the water district and Tiburon Fire have worked in concert with the county to slow the process.
2017: Marin County approves Marth Company’s environmental impact report and general plan, rejecting the specific plan. Tiburon Open Space sues the county for approving the environmental impact report. Martha Company sues the county for not approving the specific plan.