As the co-chair of Sorich Park Area Residents (SPAR), a group of more than 1,000 people fighting to protect a stretch of land near unincorporated San Anselmo, Brian Crawford guesses that his biggest concern would be some big, faceless out-of-town developer looking to make a buck while desecrating the environment.
Instead, he and his fellow SPAR members have been squaring off against one of their own: Jerry Draper, a former SPAR member who is also an organic farmer.
“People who have been around longer and knew him [Draper] from back then say they’d never thought that we’d be on opposite sides,” Crawford said.
Right now Crawford and SPAR are concerned over some signs that Draper’s proposed plan for six homes has found new life. Story poles have been erected, dictating where the houses would be built. The current proposal is for six 1,500-square-foot two-story single family homes.
Crawford said the story poles have generated a flurry of renewed interest about the project. “Many neighbors are concerned by the visual impact—the story poles can be seen from throughout Sorich Valley, from the County's Open Space Preserve, from Quarry Hill and Faude Park, and even Bald Hill," he said. "Others feel that three of the houses loom over the open space of Sorich Ranch Park and the Town of San Anselmo's corporation yard, where the town stores materials and operates heavy equipment.”
In the summer of 2009, after other failed attempts to gain county approval to develop the property, Draper saw the Planning Commission and county Board of Supervisors summarily nix his plans to erect 12 houses on the coveted property.
According to Crawford, county officials said the houses were positioned too high on the hillside, detracting from the local views. The county told Draper to come back with fewer homes and to place them elsewhere.
Draper did just that, but not after levying a lawsuit against the county.
“To us, it looked like the county was rolling over completely,” said Crawford, who said Draper was being allowed to bypass some regulations and even skip the process of bringing his plans to the Planning Commission.
Based on the position of the story poles, it appears that there are now two groups of three homes proposed: three on the southern corner of the parcel and three more within 50 yards of the town’s corporation yard.
Senior Planner Neal Osborne said the project is in the "environmental review phase" and that there would be public meetings before the Marin County Board of Supervisors in early summer.
Draper declined to comment.
For SPAR officials, this is a baffling outcome. The organization was formed to protect the land. The goal was to raise the funds to secure it and keep it as open space or perhaps park lands.
Draper bought the property himself and built a home, barn and organic farm on four acres, leaving the remaining 11 acres untouched—for a while.
The parcel owned by Jerry and Mea Draper is at the end of San Francisco Boulevard, sandwiched between Sorich Park to the west and the Mount Tamalpais Cemetery & Crematorium to the east. He paid $450,000 for 15 acres in 1992.
According to fellow SPAR leader Daniel Heller, Draper promised not to develop the land. He also turned down offers to buy the remaining acreage.
In 2009, Draper told the Marin Independent Journal that he was using the development profits to defray some medical costs.
“For 41 years, since 1972, our goal has been to acquire the parcel at a fair market price, then cede it to the Town of San Anselmo to expand Sorich Ranch Park,” Crawford said. “We hope to return Sorich Creek to its natural state and to build a trail to connect Sorich Ranch Park with Memorial Park along the scenic Sunny Hills Ridge.”
Draper seems determined to live up to a promise he made after his plans were shot down in 2009: “We are going to marshal on.”
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