BJ Blanchard: Notes from Glen Ellen

It’s back to the drawing board for the ‘little blue houses.’

Opposite the Fig Café at the base of Carquinez are the sad “little blue houses” with the falling-down white picket fence. The property owner is now in a position to pull them down and replace them with an improved structure. What replaces the little blue houses will color the entire town for the foreseeable future because the site is so central and significant in Glen Ellen.

Updated plans for the site were presented to the county Design Review Committee on Sept. 20. In summary, the project currently plans to 1) replace the triplex (little blue houses) with two buildings containing 5 apartments each, 2) retain the existing commercial building on the corner (green building where Talisman and Opalescence are), 3) repair and upgrade the tiny cottage around the corner on Carquinez to be a single-family home (the cute cottage that’s seen better days), and 4) construct a new two-story apartment building with four units fronting Carquinez, for a total of 15 total units for the project. However, the plans were opposed by several of the nearly 20 Glen Ellen residents assembled to give public comment.

The primary focus of dissent was about the buildings that would front Arnold Drive. One reaction was “This building design looks like a cheap ski condo in South Lake Tahoe.” “This design would be appropriate in overly-urban Concord or Castro Valley,” chimed another.

Glen Ellen was compared to the villages of Bodega and Occidental, both of which retain the atmosphere of a bygone era and are cherished for that very character.

Density, scale and mass were raised several times. The density of living units “is too high for a semi-rural downtown, 15 units versus the current five is too high a concentration at this corner,” said one resident.

Increased traffic from 15 apartments emptying onto Carquinez could cause congestion and accidents at that corner, and force people onto the dirt road off Carquinez, said opponents.

The current plan calls for removing 31 of 39 mature trees on the properties including an ancient Redwood, while retaining the heritage Coast Live Oak in the center.

Several people emphasized that the delicate character of Glen Ellen can easily be lost by building structures that are not compatible with its history and rural personality. They argued it is the rustic charisma of the countryside that draws people to the region for wine and food and the unequaled semi-rural experience of Glen Ellen.

Some have suggested small cottages would be more appropriate for the spot. Another has suggested a rendition of the original 1880 Roma Hotel from that location would be appropriate. Others just encouraged the use of a design with individuality: French doors, dormer windows, shingles, stone work, arched doorways, local materials.

The county planning staff reported last Friday that the applicant has requested that the project be “on hold” pending additional community outreach and feedback. Once revisions are received, another review will be done.

Visit -> Rustic Shops and Apartments.

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