Tag Archives: McMansion

Confessions of a Dragon Slayer


Confessions of a Dragon Slayer


The Yacht Club meeting was full of surprises for me.

Leaving lance and saber in my car, I decided to battle the dragon with my grandmother’s mantra “… Oh Lord help me keep my big mouth shut…” and repeated it frequently through out the well-run community meeting. Not a peep in that meeting.


The mantra first spoke in response to the 8,000′ rendering. Yikes! There was a moment of artistic appreciation for the design. I liked it; heresy…(I glanced around to see if anyone could tell), and held my tongue. Then there was the County’s mouthpiece (I’m so often cynical about ‘the County’), who turned out to be so much more, and illuminate quite well, the way things work ‘over there’ during the application process. Well-done Heidi!  I watched Heidi note taking through the meeting and left believing she actually values our input in her decision making process.


Another moment of tongue biting… on hearing about more acting out by some of us still believing vandalism is part of the dialogue. Why polarize by tearing down the story poles? old story; wrong story, bad press.


And finally, 8,000′ for a family gathering a few times a year…whoa…many of us have raised good sized families and convened extended family gatherings of 25 -50 people, in less than a quarter the size. In fact my family has had 4 sit down dinners for 50 in a less than 1000.’

Water waste, overwhelming size, the trees, light pollution… and distrust. And a cultural divide underpinning the whole mishegas.

Learning to live in a resource-depleting world has become a mantra to many of us…use less, buy less, be more, be here now (lightly), and leave no or little trace. We’ve migrated to or matured in West Marin with a sense of scale and consumption that is a touchstone for living our lives. We’re wealthy beyond belief when we look at the rest of the world, or even most of the country we live in.


Yet many of us who live here richly could not sell our homes and stay here, as our homes paid for our kids education, or our medical expenses, or our grand kids education and healthcare, and more. And our kids and the middle class whom we worked with in our careers, can’t afford to buy or find something to rent here. Nor can the young folks who work in and serve the community from baristas, to doctors.


The notion of a compound out of scale for the community is a metaphor for thinking out of tune with the community. While 8,000′ may seem small in a peer group of dragons, it dwarfs the shelters of our neighborhood, and community, and reflects an absence of local awareness.


I don’t really want to slay the dragon any more; just cut it down to a size where we’ll know he knows ‘…who the people are in his neighborhood.’

Rich Clarke,


Factsheet: 135 Balboa


This information was supplied by Tim Westergren and Smita Singh. owners of 135 Balboa Ave. Locally they are represented by Chris Stanton of Inverness Construction Management. Their design staff includes Olson Kundig architects (Seattle) ; Lutsko Associates (Landscape architects) James MacNair (arborist); Adobe Associates (engineer); WRA (biologist); Historical architecture (Marjorie Dobkin)



A single family home and a caretaker’s unit with an artist’s studio is being proposed for a 16.9 acre lot. The total proposed building area for the entire project is 8,297 sf, with a main house of 5,494 sf, creating a building ratio to lot size of just 0.011. In fact, this parcel will continue to have significantly more open space that all but a few residential properties in Inverness and Point Reyes.

The home is being designed to the highest environmental and healthy home standards (LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge). By separating the house into three structures, the architects are minimizing mass and maximizing energy efficiency, while being able to accommodate the owners’ large extended family for lengthy visits-which is the primary purpose of the project.


Both the house and caretaker’s unit were sited to minimize removal of native and healthy trees, while preserving the privacy for neighbors and the owners that the community values.

Further, the owners have employed licensed arborists to assess the health of more than 250 trees on the property, all 250 of these trees have been tagged for identification purposes. The tags mean the trees have been studied, not that they are marked for removal. After the home is built, this will remain one of the most densely forested parcels in the area with an estimated 1,000 trees on the lot.


Supporting details:

Structure Sizes:

Main House: 5,495 sf: 6 bedrooms/9 bathrooms/2 half baths

The main house is solely designed for the owners and their visiting extended families- thus the size and numbers. Until the owners retire, it will serve as a weekend/vacation home. Marin Environmental Health services defines any room that is NOT a kitchen, bathroom, dining room, living room, or mechanical room as a “bedroom”, for the purposes of determining the size of the septic system(s) for the property. Therefore, they list the main house and caretaker’s unti (sic) as having more “bedrooms” by including specific rooms, such as a study, as “bedrooms”.

Intensive consideration was given to the overall impact of the footprint, massing, and energy efficiency in the design of the three-structure design. Single car garage of 335 sf.


Caretaker’s Unit: 750 sf: 2 bedrooms/1 bathroom; with an adjacent artist studio that is 1,316 sf:, 1 bedroom and 1 bathroom (no kitchen).The property caretakers are young artists with a 3-year-old son. The intention is to make the caretaker’s unit, at the north end of the property, an attractive place to live year round, raise a family and look after the property-hence its design and siting. This area will be permanently designated as Affordable Housing in a deed restriction.


Meditation Hut: 294 sf


Pool 480 sf (water will be brought in to fill the pool)

There is no planned perimeter fencing around the 16.9 acres.


Water uses:

The existing well has sufficient water draw to serve the property. Water use will not impact nearby wells, as the “range of influence” in these geologic conditions is less than 100 feet. The closest neighboring wells are 228’ and 350’ from the 135 Balboa well. Two hydrological reports will confirm the limited range of influence. The well at Balboa was under constant use by year-round residents of a religious sisterhood and then the St. Eugene’s Hermitage (12 full-time resident monks) from 1980 to 2008 with no detrimental impact on neighboring wells.

The owners are planning to implement state-of-the-art green water storage methods for domestic use, irrigation, and fire safety for the property (and neighborhood).



More than 250 trees have been studied and tagged for identification purposes on the property. They are not marked for removal. Most of the trees on the property have Protected (at least 10 inches in diameter) or Heritage (at least 30 inches in diameter) designations. The proposed structures are sited as sensitively as possible to minimize tree removal while preserving our privacy as well as our neighbors, and improving the overall health of the woodlands.

46 trees-14 of which are Heritage-are scheduled for removal on almost 17 acres of woodland with an estimated 1000 trees. According to a detailed arborist report, of the 46 trees scheduled for removal, only 3 are considered to be in good health. 28 native Oaks, Maples and Buckeyes are scheduled for planting. Working with the County, the owners’ intention is to gradually increase the number of trees. The project biologist has determined there will be no significant damage to wildlife. This private property has significantly more trees per acre than just about any other in the Inverness/Point Reyes area. Thus, the proposal meets the governing guidelines.


Environmental Sensitivity:

The proposed development exceeds all the environmental standards of the Coastal Zone. The proposed sustainable design and construction practices are equivalent to LEED Platinum standards and establish new Healthy Home standards for the removal of toxic materials from the building process, and enhanced workplace and safety practices.


Existing Structures:

There are currently six non-conforming and dilapidated buildings on the property (e.g., all but one have no foundations), including a large, steel shipping container. None of these structures are in any way useable and will have to be removed.


Future use:

There is no intention of ever renting the property or using it for a business retreat, B&B, or other form of hotel. The owners plan to keep this property in the family, for family use, in perpetuity.


The Russian Orthodox group that had inhabited the property decided to relocate to new land in Oregon. After they already relocated, the church accepted a purchase offer by the current owners. The owners agreed to the church moving the consecrated chapel structure to Oregon in 2008.




Actually, size does matter. 135 Balboa Inverness Park

We believe that the unprecedented size of the proposed development by Hidden Dragon, L.L.C. at 135 Balboa Avenue is a call to our community to protect its scale and character. The proposed 5,494-square foot main house is more than twice the median size—less than 2,000 square feet—of all the properties on nearby Drakes Summit and Balboa. The house has three wings, which the applicants say they need for their extended families, which would visit for several weeks each year. A massive house rarely used is an unwarranted waste of precious resources; to call it “sustainable” and “green” renders these terms meaningless.

The proposed 8,297 square feet of buildings in the compound also includes a 750-square foot second unit that can only be accessed by going through a 1,316-square foot “art studio,” with five rooms and a full bathroom. These two buildings are connected by a breezeway, with the roofs only a foot apart. The second unit could therefore be interpreted as 2,066 square feet, with the potential for six bedrooms and two bathrooms and a two-car garage and nearly triple the size allowed for a second unit. Such a unit would render the countywide second-unit ordinance irrelevant, since one could build a studio of any size, as long as it doesn’t have a kitchen, and connect it to a second unit.

Owners Tim Westergren and Smita Singh have said they are building an environmentally sensitive home and that the 16.9 acre lot justifies a large home. However, only seven acres of the property can be built upon; the rest is protected by an 8.5-acre scenic easement adjacent to Haggerty Gulch and a 1.2-acre stream setback. This means makes the building to lot ratio much larger. Historically in this area, owners of large parcels have chosen to keep their homes small. There are six large properties within a half-mile, with an average building area of 2,365 square feet.

The scale of the project also involves cutting down much of the mature Douglas fir forest—46 trees, 38 of which are heritage, protected and native trees—and then “planting a new forest.” Size matters because the trees are dependent on one another for their stability and because the beauty of these trees creates a powerful peace. While those with unlimited resources can build their dream house, they may fail to appreciate what already exists, thereby destroying what was attractive in the first place.

With its numerous bedrooms, friends and colleagues could come and use the property as much as they like—swimming pool included. The wings and corridors also make it inviting as a retreat center, especially since all bedrooms and guest “exercise rooms” have their own bathrooms, suggesting use by unrelated occupants. Because of its size and the configuration of its rooms, a future owner could certainly take advantage of its business opportunities. The Westergrens claim they have “no intention of ever renting the property or using it for a business retreat… or other form of hotel,” and that they “plan to keep this property in the family . . . in perpetuity.” While we applaud these intentions, we question their ability to predict their family’s future plans with such assurance.

Size matters because if the county permits this project, it does so for use 365 days of the year—with its many bedrooms, 14 bathrooms and 16,000-gallon lap pool. Permitting a building like this on Balboa is especially egregious, since the 33 or so families who live above the project on Drakes Summit cannot be serviced by municipal water, and are instead dependent on private wells.

Size matters because the people who live here full time are also dependent on one another for their stability. We don’t have hotels and golf courses because many people have devoted countless hours to keeping that from happening. The proposed house looks a lot like those in Napa and Tiburon, beautiful places where huge houses are common and empty.

Size matters because it sets a precedent, and becomes a game of out-doing the next applicant who happens by. The next person will need to outdo the last, and can prove to the planning department that it was done in Inverness Park. It’s ludicrous to pretend a project of this size has no effect on the land it impacts. Leave aside for a moment the manufacture and construction of materials for the project (which are huge), and consider the digging, earth-moving, septic preparation, required parking, burial of water tanks and noise of construction, all of which will be several years in the making. The neighbors are not just human—this land is bordered by the national seashore and water district lands and is an active wildlife corridor that runs, interrupted only by Balboa itself, for at least five miles. To call these plans sensitive to the environment reveals how deluded the project is.

We sincerely hope the Westergrens, who seem to be socially conscious people who share many of our values, will listen to the community and will substantially scale their project down.   And perhaps we can seize this opportunity for creative dialogue with the developers, to help them see more deeply why we care about size.


We urge everyone in the community who is concerned about the unprecedented size of this proposed development to write to: hscoble@marincounty.org with your comments.

Nancy Stein

Mary Winegarden & Geoff Hoyle

Doug & Kathy Gower

Ron Wagner & Bonnie Ruder

Cindy & Ken Knabe

Maica Folch & Dan Barton

Christine Nielsen
Mary Jo Maendle

Cynthia Hammond

Isabel McCudden

Elan Whitney

Debbie Daly & Tim Weed

Andrew Bindman

Rebecca Smith Bindman

Paola Bouley

Axel & Mara Nelson

Cynthia Hammond

Kate Matthay

Inez Storer

Kathy Maxwell

Ginny Michael

Joe Michael





Are McMansions the future for West Marin?

By Steve Martinek, Inverness Park

Does a recent building permit application presage a trend?

County planners are examining plans for a proposed single-family residence compound at 135 Balboa Ave. Inverness Park, at the intersection with Drake Summit Road. A legal entity named Hidden Dragon LLC submitted the plans for a Coastal Permit and Design Review. Many may know this address as the site of the former St. Eugene’s Hermitage, vacated by the monks in 2006 when their efforts to improve the property were thwarted by local objections and the planning process.

Hidden Dragon’s proposal to raze all existing structures and replace them with six buildings of a total area of 8,297 square feet warrants closer inspection. Community Development Agency planner Heidi Scoble has examined the documents submitted to date and requested additional information. A public hearing is pending the additional information, but community members are welcome to comment in writing. Chris Stanton of Inverness Construction Management is the permit applicant for Hidden Dragon LLC.

Given the size of the proposed construction, it is hard not to ask the questions, Is this development suitable for the site, sensitive to both the neighborhood and the characteristics of the location? Is it in keeping with the applicable Marin County zoning laws, C-RSP-0.1 and C-SF2?

The parcel is large, nearly 17 acres, and a significant portion is comprised of undesirable steep slopes with an additional area restricted by a conservation easement. Despite this, the proposed construction will have a significant impacted on the site.


Six buildings


The planned six buildings include a single-family home of 5,494 square feet, a 750-square-foot caretaker’s residence, and a 1316-square-foot studio. The remainder of the declared building area is comprised of two garages, a pool house and lap pool.

It is noteworthy to examine these declared sizes in light of the applicable county codes and guidelines. Marin’s Residential Design Guidelines state that a primary design objective is to preserve “the special qualities of a place that attracted residents to particular communities.” And note that “The primary challenge posed by new single-family projects…is to create desirable new development which: (1) preserves the scenic natural setting;” and “(2) allows mixed (sizes and styles of) residential communities while maintaining the predominant community character.” The guidelines further state: “Generally speaking, the floor area of the proposed development should not substantially exceed the median home size in the surrounding neighborhood.”

A review of over 50 property sizes using the internet site Zillow.com, revealed average home sizes of approximately 1400 square feet on Balboa Ave. and 2000 square feet on Drake Summit Dr. Average home sizes on Portola and Buena Vista were even smaller, 935 and 1200 sq ft, respectively. Median home sizes were within 100 square feet of these values, in all cases lower than the average except for the homes on Drake Summit where the median was greater.

Clearly the proposed main dwelling, at 2.7 to 3.9 times larger in size, substantially exceeds the size of the surrounding properties. This proposed dwelling is even approximately 25 percent larger than the largest existing home on Drakes View Drive. It also worth noting that the properties reviewed had on average 2 to 2.4 bedrooms and 1.3 to 2 bathrooms. The proposed main house design at 135 Balboa at present includes six bedrooms, with an additional six possible bedrooms, 11 toilets and nine showers/baths. In an era of water consciousness, 11 toilets, nine showers? What is the impact on ground water resources to support this plan?

An immediate obvious question: What constitutes a single-family dwelling? Nuclear family? Extended family? With a structure of this size proposed as the main dwelling, what happens if the owner’s plans change? What if after construction, Hidden Dragon doesn’t occupy and the property ends up on the market. Do the new owners appeal for a commercial license based on size and seek a change in zoning? Does it become a conference center, a B&B? Or an under-the-radar Airbnb property? What qualities does it then contribute to the neighborhood?


Historic trees cut


It is equally important to consider the other important item from the summarized guidelines mentioned earlier: (1) preserves the scenic natural setting. The placement of the main house has apparently been made in convenience for construction and design concept and in complete disregard for the site. The permit application states the intent to remove 48 trees. A significant number of these are 100-ft.-tall Douglas fir “heritage” trees at the main house site. The existing story poles show an apparent total disregard of these trees when siting the structure. The natural “scenic setting” will essentially be clear cut to build the oversized main structure. Additional trees will be removed to accommodate the driveway, parking area and possibly only to open the view. This cluster of trees is capable of removing a metric ton of carbon dioxide per year from the atmosphere. County code requires mitigating the removal of these trees, and the plan proposes planting buckeyes and oaks, but is this an equitable remediation?

It is also instructive to consider the proposed caretaker residence. At 750 square feet it conforms to second unit requirements in the code. This residence is situated in an area that also necessitates the removal of a significant number of trees including heritage Douglas fir and oaks. And it threatens a neighboring property with light pollution.

In need of closest scrutiny is the proposed “studio” building. Inconvenient to the main house, the studio is co-located with and shares a deck with the caretaker house. At 1300 square feet, it contains a “living room,” three studios, a meditation room and a bathroom. It could easily be a living room, four bedrooms and a bath. The plans also show a double sink in the bath of the “studio” that suggests a master bath rather than a utilitarian space. But even more troubling is the fact that the caretaker residence is not accessible directly from the garage in this cluster of buildings. Egress from the garage to the caretaker residence is only apparent through the studio space. The layout strongly suggests the caretaker residence and studio functions as a 2066-square-foot house in clear size violation of the second unit regulations. If this was not the intent, the submitted plans fail to be convincing.

The broader question, however, is worthy of more consideration. Does this permit application represent the future of building in West Marin? Where existing structures can be summarily razed and replaced with inappropriately sized homes? All of the existing structures at the site probably do not warrant preservation or could even be rescued, but a more creative and site-sensitive approach is certainly feasible.

County planners face challenges in reviewing this application. Approval of the current plans would set a precedent that might be hard to reverse in the future. The county is accepting written comments on the proposed plan as part of the review process. Send comments to (hscoble@marincounty.org)