Zoning fiasco finally over

Following months of negotiation, Anna Francis will finally be able to build her house and two barns on McDonald Lane in Point Reyes Station. The approval granted by the Marin Planning Commission on Monday ended a permitting saga that started in August when arbitrary changes were made to her initial development plan.

A quirk of county regulations allows the Marin Deputy Zoning Administrator (DZA) to tweak applications at will. This is what happened to Francis after a neighbor appealed her original plan. The resulting changes didn’t appease him, and Francis was unhappy with the new version as well.

The modified plan proposed four fundamental changes. The long driveway that leads from the house to the barns would be moved, as would the barns themselves. It also called for paving the driveway in order to reduce dust, as well as the construction of a six-foot tall fence between the adjacent properties.

According to Francis’ attorney, Neil Sorenson, what began as “a very, very modest proposal” soon became a drawn-out ordeal set on fixing nonexistent issues. “The DZA, in changing our plan, created greater problems than it solved,” he said.

The Planning Commission came to this same realization following a deluge of letters and public statements from Francis’ friends and neighbors, most of whom favored the original plans.

As Commissioner Peter Theran put it, “We really missed the target on this one. We cut it all up and made a mess of it. Nearly every letter that came to us said the same thing: we need to go back to the good, strong management plan that was given initially to us.”

Each of the four adjustments made by the DZA was refuted based upon evidence brought in by both Francis and her neighbor, Tony Ragona.

“My main concern is the fence, it would totally obliterate my view,” said Ragona. “There’s already a nice wire-mesh fence there that maintains the agricultural feel of West Marin.”
By the end of the meeting, the Commission agreed that the original plan could remain, with a few minor changes. The existing fence could stay as well, and the driveway would not have to
be paved.

“It seems there is less of a dust problem than was previously thought,” said Commissioner Wade Holland. “There’s just not enough traffic to justify putting any other surface than just
standard gravel.”

In regards to the driveway’s placement, it is now offset from the original plan directly alongside the fence, yet didn’t go so far as the DZA’s proposal which connected the house and the barns directly.

Sorenson warned that the driveway as proposed by the DZA would essentially bisect the property, causing issues when it came time to rotate the pastures for the cows. Plus it would add another 200 feet to the road, which would make it more expensive due to the substantial grade
changes entailed in the subsequent topography flux.

By the end of the meeting, Anna Francis and her corps of contenders looked worn yet relieved by the decision of the Board.

“I really care about this land,” she said. “And I’m very committed to it.”