Sausalito rezones ridgetop parcel for open space

Updated: Jun 2, 2018

POSTED: 01/21/18, 5:09 PM PST | UPDATED: ON 01/23/2018

Author: Mark Prado

Publication: Marin Independent Journal

Story poles mark a proposed home construction site in 2015 at 44 Wolfback Ridge Road in Sausalito. The owners later withdrew the proposal and donated the lot to the National Park Service. (Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Jounal)


A long contested piece of property high in the Sausalito hills has had its zoning changed, allowing it to officially be designated as open space.

The owners of the multi-million-dollar property at 44 Wolfback Ridge Road sparked controversy in 2015 when they announced plans to build a home on their lot. But after concern from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and some criticism from environmentalists over the plan, Jeff and Beth Karsen donated the parcel to the National Park Service.

Earlier this month the Sausalito City Council considered the zoning change to move the piece of land from single-family residential to open space.

“I would urge you to make this zoning change,” said resident Vicki Nichols, who sits on the Planning Commission. “As a resident of Sausalito, this is such a great benefit to our town, this great open space. If we get the zoning finalized, it’s a done deal.”

Story poles outlining the proposed home went up on the parcel when the house plan was announced. That raised concerns among residents and park officials at the time.

“You could see the story poles from the road down below,” recalled Councilwoman Susan Cleveland-Knowles, who voted along with the rest of the council to change the zoning. “It was right next to the trail.”

The Karsens purchased the property for $2.5 million in 2014 with plans to build their dream home. But officials with the National Park Service voiced concerns that development on the parcel would ruin views.

A proposal to build a home on the land, high above the Gerbode Valley adjacent to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area near Rodeo Beach, raised concerns among those who fought to keep the area from being developed in the 1960s.

In a letter to the city, former park superintendent Chris Lehnertz wrote that the home would be “visible to the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors to the Marin Headlands ... and would diminish the experience of park visitors.”

Park planners added that it would result in a “glaring visual intrusion.”

Sausalito city staff, however, had recommended approval of the house, a 3,785-square-foot, two-level single-family residence. But hearing concerns, the Karsens donated the land.

It was not the first dustup over the property.

Between 1999 and 2002, the park service conducted land appraisals of four parcels within the Wolfback Ridge subdivision, including the one at 44 Wolfback Ridge Road, and offered to buy them at market value. The offer was rejected by then-owner Allan Patterson.

The battle over the house had its roots in a development planned for the area in the 1960s.

With the backing of Gulf Oil, East Coast developer Thomas Frouge bought land and got approval from the Board of Supervisors in 1965 for the community of Marincello. The Wolfback Ridge property was to be part of that development.

The plan was to build high-rise apartments and homes to house 25,000 people on 2,100 acres in the Marin Headlands between Forts Cronkhite, Barry and Baker and the city of Sausalito.

But the project became embroiled in legal issues, and after a court ruling against the plan, Marin supervisors said they would no longer support Marincello. Gulf Oil dropped its backing by 1970. Eventually the land was sold to the Nature Conservancy and it became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

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