The Mill Valley Planning Commission heaped praised on a Lovell Avenue redevelopment project that calls for 11 units of high-density for-sale condo units within walking distance of downtown.

The commissioners unanimously approved the project, which will remodel two existing apartment buildings and build one new one at 33, 41 and 41G Lovell Ave., at their Monday night meeting.

“As I’ve listened to the presentation, I’ve been struck, awestruck in fact, by the care that went into the thinking and the planning,” said Commissioner David Rand. “This is clearly a thought-out project. This is exactly what downtown Mill Valley needs.”

While there are currently 11 rental units already on the property, owners and brothers Robert, Rick and Tony Franceschini say the buildings have major issues and are at the end of their useful life.

The property’s owners have deep roots in Mill Valley. The Franceschini brothers are the grandsons of Frank Canepa, who founded the Mill Valley Market in 1929 (their cousins Jim and Doug Canepa still run the market today).

The brothers inherited the property from their grandparents, who built the apartment at 33 Lovell Ave. in the 1960s as their retirement home, said Rick Franceschini. His parents purchased 41 Lovell Ave. in the 1960s as well, expanding the family’s holdings in the area.

“We’re not some outsiders coming in,” Franceschini said. “We’ve been involved in this community for a longtime.”

Bruce Carnes, who owns the adjacent property at 16 Madrona Ave., said he would be happy to see the buildings renovated. “I think it’s going to be good that somebody’s putting this kind of financing into Mill Valley and upgrading this 1960s ugly apartment building. I think it’s going to make the downtown look a lot better, and especially Lovell, which has a few problems.”

Hayden Hicks, a Mill Valley resident who identified himself as a friend and client of the project’s architect, Bob Hatfield, said, “I think it’s really important to increase these high-density infill units around the downtown area to support people like me who want to downsize eventually and live closer to town and be less impactful.”

Two of the 11 units will be reserved for moderate-income occupants. The city’s general plan requires 15 percent of new units to be “affordable,” as verified by the Marin Housing Authority. “Two affordable units is a pretty good deal in an 11-unit development,” said city planner Amber El-Hajj.

The developers pledged to make a good-faith effort to help current tenants on the property compete for one of the completed affordable units, but that may be difficult to do, since the Marin Housing Authority reverts to a lottery system for affordable units when demand form qualified occupants is high.

Commissioner Barbara Chamber praised the project for helping fill the town’s deficit of smaller units. “I think we really need these high-density infill units,” she said. “I think it’s just incredible that you created so many one-bedroom units.” (Five of the 11 are one-bedrooms.)

Commissioner Churck Utzman praised the project’s sustainability. “It’s wonderful to see buildings be reused rather than simply demolished. I think the most green thing you can do is to recycle buildings to the best of our ability.”

Commission Chairwoman Heidi Richardson called the proposal a “thoughtful, very technically astute good-for-the-community project. It’s just what the city wants.”

The only notable change the commissioners requested was the conversion of three of the project’s 21 parking spaces to guest-parking spaces.

Contact Ryan White at

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