Retirement Complex Proposal Faces Historical Status Hurdle

09/16/2022 | News | Reading Time 4 Minutes

A plan to redevelop the Aldersly retirement community in San Rafael could have major historic implications. The Planning Commission re-ceived a draft environmental impact report Tuesday that found the project as proposed would result in disqualification from listing in the California Register of Historical Places. 

The complex, at 326 Mission Ave. in the Montecito/Happy Valley neighborhood, is not listed on the register now. However, the environmental analysis concluded that the cohesive collection of the buildings at the site represent “Second Bay Tradition” architectural style and are eligible to receive a historic district designation. 

The proposed demolition and remodel of the property would result in ineligibility for future listing. “The presentation tonight further reinforced my concerns about really the cultural resource that Aldersly is,” Commissioner Samina Saude said. 

“I do think that this site in particular really contributes to the richness of the fabric of that area, as well as San Rafael,” she said, adding that it would be a detriment to lose the buildings, “especially because the new design doesn’t really address any of the existing vernacular, nor does it try to retain the richness, design and detailing that the original structures have.” 

Aldersly, which was founded in 1921 as a retirement community for Danish-American immigrants, has been redeveloped over time, and none of the original buildings still stand. The buildings that have historic significance are those that were part of the site’s 1961 master plan by Rex Whitaker Allen & Associates. 

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 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 number of parking spaces would increase from 48 to 56. The project requires an environmental and design review permit, a zoning amendment and use permit applications. 

As required by state law, the environmental impact report considers all disruptions that could be created through construction and throughout the operation of the site. 

Jayni Allsep, a contract city planner, said all impacts were classified as less than significant that could be mitigated with proper construction planning. 

However, any potential historic status would be irrecoverable if the buildings were torn down, she said. Part of the EIR included studying alternative projects, including a no project option. One alternative would concentrate all new development to the southern edge of the property, and the scale of construction would be reduced. It would still require demolition of five of the nine buildings, meaning “the impact on the historic district would remain significant and unavoidable,” Allsep said. 

Another alternative proposed building new construction on a neighboring property along Union Street, which is owned by Aldersly. That option preserve the site’s potential historic status. 

Commissioner Chair Jon Previtali said he was concerned about that.  “Those are truly beautiful buildings and they do have a special character,” he said comparing the complex to the Frank Lloyd Wright-built Marin County Civic Center. “I think it would be a shame to see those buildings torn down.” 

Neighbors to the site were more concerned about parking issues, traffic and noise during construction. Chris Yatrakis, a board member of the Montecito Area Residents Association, said there needs to be a city standard of how big new development can be. 

“We probably need a way to communicate to residents about the size of these new structures that are coming in so that people can understand the size and mass of them before cement gets thrown,” he said, suggesting that the city require story poles to show scale. 

“And the way it is done today, the planning gets done on paper and there’s no way to understand how the paper translates to the physical location.” 

The project applicant could not be reached for comment. Residents have through Sept. 30 to submit written comments on the draft EIR. Comments can be emailed to [email protected]. More information on the project is at