Belvedere’s Mallard Pointe housing proposal faces community backlash

Sydney Johnson

While driving down Tiburon Boulevard, beaming red signs plastered in front of houses read, “Mallard Pointe: Bad for Belvedere.” The Mallard Pointe redevelopment, which aims to replace rented houses with a variety of housing options, has raised controversy in the quaint town of Belvedere. As an affordable housing crisis strikes California, development company Thompson Dorfman and former Belvedere resident Eric Hohmann proposed Mallard Pointe as a solution to aging duplexes along Belvedere lagoon when they obtained the land in October of 2021.

Rippling on a hot day, the Belvedere lagoon includes many multi-million dollar luxury homes.

The project replaces the 22 70-year-old units with 40 brand-new ones. These would provide a variety of housing options including luxury single-family homes and duplexes, and a 23-unit multifamily apartment building with four affordable units. Hohmann, one of three general partners of the project, considered the local community feedback to have been an essential part of the planning.

“When we acquired the property, we were thinking about what Mallard Pointe should be for the next 70 years. We re-envisioned the site, conducted about 100 interviews with local residents and city staff, presented ideas, took feedback and came up with a plan that provided a variety of housing options,” Hohmann said. “These lagoon homes are in a flood zone and are not floodproof [nor] future-proof. Our buildings will have all of the latest adopted codes, meaning we provide a very resilient, diverse housing stock.”

Expanding further on the importance of the project, Hohmann stressed the impact of current housing decisions on the Generation Z population of Marin. 

“We think it is completely appropriate to have engagement with younger folks because decisions are being made by the baby boomer generation that will affect the cost and availability of housing for the younger generation,” Hohmann said.  

However, the 550-member Mallard Pointe opposition group, Belvedere Resident for Intelligence Growth (BRIG), has expressed various concerns about the demolition and replacement of the development by Mallard Pointe. John Hansen, former lawyer and chairman of the BRIG group, questioned the legality of the apartment plans.

“It’s important that whatever project is built complies with the law, and that means not only state law but also Belvedere’s own laws, in combination with the General Plan and the Zoning Ordinance. Our issue with zoning is that the proposed project cannot be built because it contains apartment housing, and in the Belvedere Zoning Ordinance [there] is an expressed prohibition of apartment houses. Therefore, from a legal standpoint, the project simply can’t be built,” Hansen said.

Flashing over Tiburon Boulevard, a large sign beckons drivers to involve themselves in housing decisions.

On the other hand, the state Density Bonus Law, granting developers waivers to local construction limitations, requires 10 percent of units in new developments to be below market rate affordable housing units. Developers may have found a solution to the allegedly illegal aspects of Mallard Pointe with the use of this state law and the ordinance SB-330.

“We have made a formal application under state law SB-330, a law supposed to be giving a streamlined hearing process so that projects may not be delayed or stalled as long as the project complies. We’re taking advantage of the SB-330 as well as the state Density Bonus Law to allow us to build this project,” Hohmann said.

When Hohmann refers to “compliance” with the state Density Bonus Law, he is alluding to the four out of the 40 units at Mallard Pointe that meet that requirement. However, Hansen suggests that the developers are taking advantage of state provisions to escape Belvedere’s zoning ordinances.

“If you do provide 10 percent affordable housing units, and note that the developer is not providing a single unit more than they have to, then the developer is allowed to get waivers from building standards that would otherwise apply. So, this development is really focused on the construction and profit of the luxury single-family lagoon front homes, and with entitlement to get waivers from ordinary construction limitations,” Hansen said.

For Mallard Pointe specifically, the four below-market rate units won’t have a significant impact on the affordable housing crisis. Despite this, housing activist Ethan Strull emphasizes the importance of young people being educated about housing decisions, as the availability of affordable housing may have a direct impact on whether or not Redwood students can live locally in the future. 

“These sorts of housing issues are so complex and multifaceted that it’s extremely hard to fully understand the issue. There are so many urban planning, economic and environmental aspects that go into proposals, which can create a huge barrier for young people to get involved, but I [still] think it’s hugely important,” Strull said.

Unfortunately, the Mallard Pointe residences atop the bay have begun to suffer differential settlement, meaning the houses’ floors have begun to tilt and unlevel, which is not up to current safety nor market standards. Because new codes require raising the residences above the flood zone, any renovation must be a complete transformation. Hohmann is optimistic about the process going forward, as he believes it is in the best interest of Belvedere.

“I do think we will be approved,” Hohmann said. “We have the weight of state law behind us, and we have been careful to be compliant. We anticipate that [city council] will do the right thing despite the very vocal and aggressive opposition group, as it’s the right thing for Belvedere and under the law.”