A challenge to halt plans for the redevelopment of the former Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary property in southern Marin has been denied by the Marin County Board of Supervisors, which heard the appeal on November 10. The ruling allows the environmental review process to move forward for the applicant, North Coast Land Holdings LLC.
The applicant proposes to redevelop portions of the property located in unincorporated Strawberry to provide a residential care facility for senior citizens, a preschool and fitness center both open to the public, and residential housing that would include units considered affordable according to Marin’s median household income statistics. The proposed project includes the replacement of existing residential units and the construction of new residential units on the project site. Under North Coast’s plans, more than 75% of the 127-acre property near Richardson’s Bay would remain as open space, athletic fields, pathways and plazas.
Following an 18-month-long process (called “Seminary Tomorrow”) during which the applicant and community members met several times to discuss potential project options, North Coast Land Holdings submitted a revised planning application to the Marin County Community Development Agency (CDA), the agency that oversees development in unincorporated areas of Marin. The applicant’s proposal would involve creating a new master plan for the property at 201 Seminary Drive; the previous master plan for the site originally issued in 1984, expired nearly three years ago.
Golden Gate Baptist Seminary had an enrollment of about 600 students in 2015 when its leadership decided to close it permanently and enroll students in seminary programs elsewhere. North Coast proposes no changes to the existing use permit issued by the County in 1953 allowing higher educational use of the site, with an enrollment limit of up to 1,000 students. County attorneys have determined that the 1953 use permit is considered valid even with an expired master plan.
With CDA environmental planning manager’s September 25, 2020, release of the Notice of Preparation (NOP) of environmental impact report (EIR), public agencies and residents were invited to submit concerns on the potential environmental impacts of the proposed project that should be included for evaluation in the project EIR. That comment period has been extended through January 2021 with the Board’s November 10 decision.
Following release of the NOP, the Seminary Neighborhood Association appealed the determination to proceed with an EIR for the project and said the future plans for higher education on the property were ambiguous. CDA staff’s appeal response stated that all reasonably foreseeable changes to the existing educational use would be clarified and fully analyzed in the EIR.
Citing improvements to earlier proposed development plans, Supervisor Kate Sears – who represents the Strawberry neighborhood and the rest of southern Marin on the Board – said the vision for the property’s future “has come a long way and has a long way to go. It’s time to put the application to the test” and measure potential impacts through the EIR process.
The Board’s new ruling comes three years after it upheld a prior appeal and suspended preparation for an EIR for an earlier North Coast project at the location. North Coast returned in February 2020 with a revised application, and the Strawberry Design Review Board recommended project denial after holding a public hearing.
CDA staff plans to continue the EIR scoping process and remains eager to collect feedback about environmental issues, mitigation measures, and potential project alternatives. A draft EIR for public review and comment is anticipated for release in summer 2021.