Once a thriving resort and country club, the former glory of the Marin Town and Country Club property is long past. Now the main pool sits half-filled with water, used by the state to breed fish-eating mosquitoes. The other pools are empty, the concrete cracked. Signs advertising the old resort are faded and covered in ivy. The Redwood Bowl – the site of popular and chic dances – is filled with boxes for storage.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
Owner Michael Makintosh, who purchased the property from the Friedman family in 2002 for around $5 million, had plans to restore the clubhouse and build a small museum, soccer field, hotel, 20 apartments and a retirement home.
"With the intent I thought I would be well-received," said Makintosh, who has lived on the peaceful property in one of the old vacation rental cottages for the last two year.
But Makintosh and the town have been at odds in the past. Including a discussion in 2006 of the town selling a part of town land near the property to Makintosh, which ultimately failed. He said, he needs the town to be fully supportive of any plans on the large piece of land.
"I want the town to really want to do this," said Makintosh, especially given the property's colorful past.
He purchased the property with the goal of bridging past divides, but battles over the land have raged for decades.
In 1972, when Max Friedman closed the Marin Town and Country Club, the residents of Fairfax were surprised and upset. Rumors swirled about large condominium complexes and development coming into the relatively pristine land.
In a unique turn of events the voters passed an initiative requiring that any change in the zoning for that property would have to come to the voters for approval. The land is currently zoned for "light commercial and recreational," meaning any proposed housing (other than the small cottages on the property that were grandfathered-in) or large commercial buildings would be different zoning. That new zoning would have to go to the voters for approval.
This is not how zoning changes typically come about.
"It's very rare," said Town Manager Michael Rock.
The Friedman family challenged the initiative in court, until it eventually wound its way to the California Supreme Court.
"So we know it's legal," said Rock.
In 1996, a proposed plan to put in up to 79 single-family homes and a 14-acre community park would have required voter approval of a zoning change. The plan went to the voters and was overwhelmingly defeated in a vote of 2,401 to 681
All of this, understandably, makes any potential buyer nervous.
In 2008, Makintosh put the property on the market for $38 million, but has not yet found any buyers. Earlier this year, the Ross Valley School District considered purchasing some portion of the property to build a new K-5 school. However, according to the district, the two parties were unable to agree on a price. School Board President Sharon Sagar said, at the time, that the amount Makintosh wanted was so much higher than what the school district was prepared to pay that no compromise could be reached.
Makintosh says if a school had been built on the site the town would have lost a potential $2 million in property tax revenue. He estimates that between sales tax on his proposal, a hotel transient tax on the proposed hotel, and property tax the town would easily make $2 million on his developed property.
"This is the town's largest undeveloped asset," said Makintosh. Right now Makintosh pays $96,000 a year in property taxes. "This property has been very expensive."
Rock says that though the zoning initiative can make a proposed development difficult, there's still a lot of flexibility within the current light commercial and recreational zoning to build a restaurant, small hotel, field and pool.
Rock also says that Makintosh has never submitted formal plans to the town for any proposal.
"The process is very straight-forward. You have to submit plans," he said.
In the meantime, 65 people continue to live in the old vacation rental cottages. And the rest of the town hopes that the property can return to some semblance of what it has been in the past.
"I'm part Indian. Maybe, I'll build a casino," joked Makintosh.