City Commission Endorses Project to Revamp Aldersly

11/21/2022 | News | Reading Time 4 Minutes

The San Rafael Planning Commission is backing a plan to redevelop the Aldersly retirement community. The Planning Commission voted. 4-0 Tuesday to recommend approval of the project at 326 and 308 Mission Ave. The project requires the certification of an environmental impact report and the approval of a zoning amendment, a master use permit amendment and environmental and design review permit.

Commissioner Shingai Samudzi was recused because he lives near the property. Commissioners Kelly Shalk and Jon Previtali were absent from the meeting. More than two dozen residents and staff attended the meeting to support the project.

Following the approval, Shannon Brown, executive director of Aldersly, said the complex has evolved from a few cottages in 1921 to a full-service seniors community today. “We are grateful to the San Rafael Planning Commission for recommending our plan, so Aldersly can continue on our path to serve residents of Marin for another hundred years,” she said. The project would increase the number of independent living apartments from 55 to 69. The site would continue to have 35 assisted living and memory care beds and 20 skilled nursing beds. The plan increases the average apartment size from 566 square feet to 955 square feet, while also providing more modern layouts and amenities. The project would require the demolition of six buildings and the construction of three new buildings. Four buildings would be renovated and new outdoor spaces, including a memory care garden, an activity lawn and a rose terrace, would be added. The Planning Commission last reviewed the project plans when the draft environmental impact report was presented.

At that time, one of the hangups was that the proposed redevelopment would result in disqualification from the California Register of Historical Places. The complex is not listed on the register now. However, the environmental analysis concluded that the cohesive collection of the buildings at the site represents the “Second Bay Tradition” architectural style and is eligible to receive a historic district designation.

The proposed demolition and remodeling of the property would result in ineligibility for listing. Aldersly, which was founded as a retirement community for Danish-American immigrants, has been redeveloped over time, and none of the original buildings still stands.

The buildings that have historic significance are those that were part of the site’s 1961 master plan by Rex Whitaker Allen & Associates. To offset the historical loss, the proposal includes a plan to “document and provide interpretation, commemoration, and salvage of the historic resources prior to any demolition, ”according to the final EIR and staff report.“ This would reduce the impact on historic re- sources, but not to a less than-significant level. Therefore, the impact
would remain significant and unavoidable,” the staff report says.

Jayni Allsep, a contract city planner, said all other impacts were classified as less than significant and could be mitigated with proper construction planning. Peter Schakow, president of the Aldersly board, said the nonprofit recognized that the apartments built several decades ago were no longer meeting the needs of its residents.

The property used to attract people who were in their 50s and 60s, but now residents are coming in closer to their 80s and older, he said.
“We just cannot sell the units that are there today and so we needed to make changes to have the right product for the current market,” he said.

Linda Jackson, a planning consultant working for the applicant, said there are 5,000 San Rafael residents who are 75 or older and 11% of those are in single-family homes living alone. “We need as many of these senior units as possible so that people can downsize and younger people can move into the family-sized homes that have been opened up for them,” she said.

Yvonne Cotton, a five-year resident of Aldersly, said she’s made the community her home. “Today’s senior citizens demand larger apartments and more amenities,” she said. “In order to compete with the marketplace, we need to act now.”

Commissioner Samina Saude said she’s upset about the loss of historic resources, but she understands the need to update the complex. Commissioner Jon Haveman called Aldersly “a jewel in the community.” “My impression has been that Aldersly is providing a very good option for Marin residents,” he said. “I think that it is in a position to expand to meet the new needs. I think it’s terrific.” The project is set for a public hearing at the City Council meeting on Dec. 5 for final approval.

By Adrian Rodriguez