More than a year since a controversial project at 790 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard halted construction, San Anselmo has filed a lawsuit against the developer of the site near the Hub.
The project, approved in 2005, was forced to halt construction of two residential lots and a 9,500 square foot commercial property after financing dried up in early 2009. Developer Gerry Hynes of San Rafael purchased the property in 2007 and began extensive excavation work on the hillside, but ran out of money. The bank pulled its loan when the economy began to tank, said Hynes.
"No bank in Marin is giving out construction loans for work like this," he said.
Unfortunately, when money ran out the project wasn't done. Now, the site stands half-finished. Just how finished it needs to be is at the heart of the debate over the lawsuit.
"We've been trying to work with him to get these things resolved and we have not had any success," said Town Manager Debbie Stutsman.
The lawsuit, filed in May, alleges Hynes violated the terms of his permit and must fix a large storm drain pipe, finish a concrete mat on the side of the hill, remove equipment from the property and secure the site.
Hynes, however, sais he has completed all requirements made of him under the permit he has with the town. According to Hynes – representing himself in the lawsuit – all grading and winterizing work has been finished. The concrete mat seen from Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is completed and an aesthetic finish needs to be applied, but the town hasn't told him what color they want it to be. Other concerns people have raised about the unfinished site are separate the original permit and approval, said Hynes, and the town can't try and change its requirements after the fact.
"It's like trying to race to the finish line and the line keeps moving," said Hynes.
A $200,000 bond that was to be held until the grading work was completed has not yet been released by the town, despite, said Hynes, the grading and excavation work being finished. In addition, per the filed lawsuit, Hynes could be liable for additional fines and up to $1,000 per day for every day he fails to meet the outlined schedule.
<any of the concerns of local residents and neighbors, however, have remained unaddressed.
"I don't know if [the lawsuit] is going to make it better. They're just wrangling over $200,000," said Cherilyn Gilboy, whose house is below the construction site. Gilboy said her house has experienced extensive cracks in the walls and foundation. Gilboy said she believes the hill, which experienced a landslide in 1967, is shifting in the wake of the huge amounts of excavation Hynes has done.
Bob Chapman, whose real estate office Marchant-Chapman is directly below the construction site, said the office has also experienced problems like small cracks, tiles leaking, and doors no longer fitting in the frames.
Both Chapman and Gilboy say that the drainage on the hillside has been changed and that slides and flooding remain huge problems.
"Essentially, what they did is create a dam," said Chapman.
Gilboy also said she feels the trucks and equipment driven up the small road have destroyed the road. The trees that have been cut down used to block noise and light from her home and there's been no effort at revegetation, she said.
Many of these concerns were raised as possible problems when the project was approved in 2005.
"I don't think they should have changed our lives so much," said Gilboy.
According to Stutsman, there is a fine line between the aesthetic concerns the community has raised and what the town can enforce.
"We don't want a public nuisance," she said.
But Hynes said he doesn't want the site the way it is either, and he wishes he had the money to finish it.
"It hurts me more than anybody to have the site like this," he said.
Hynes hoped, tentatively, to sell the two residential lots at the top of the property, where the grading and utilities have been finished. That funding would then enable him to finish the commercial site closer to the street. But, he admits, he's unlikely to find a buyer with the lawsuit attached to the property and given the current economy.
"Now, I wouldn't buy it if you gave it to me for free," he said.
In the meantime, Gilboy and Chapman are trying to find the humor in the situation while the lawsuit is going on.
During two rain storms, Chapman said, four trees fell down. When they told the town about the problem, he said, the town sent people out to cut down the rest of the trees in that location.
"They killed the canaries," said Chapman.