San Anselmo Town Councilman Ford Greene failed to convince the town's Planning Commission on Monday night that he should be allowed to continue living in his studio apartment without obtaining a conditional use permit and doing costly retrofitting work.

Greene's unit is located on the first floor of a turn-of-the-20th-century, three-story building at 711 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. The councilman purchased the building in 2001 and has lived in the studio apartment since the early 1990s, initially as a renter. His law office is on the second floor. The building has two single-bedroom apartments on the third floor that are currently occupied by tenants.

Greene on Monday was asking the Planning Commission to overrule the decision of the town's interim planning director Diane Henderson, who had previously decided that Greene needs to obtain a conditional use permit for residential use of his studio because it is located in a district zoned for large-scale commercial uses. Henderson was absent Monday.

Greene said he wasn't looking for any special favors because he is councilman. "I also should not be subjected to extra special standards," Greene said.

Several people spoke on Greene's behalf.

Jonathan Frieman of San Rafael, who said Greene is working on a legal case for him, said, "The way this city is treating one of its longtime and most productive residents is despicable."


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But San Anselmo Town Manager Debra Stutsman said, "We treat everyone equitably and the same. That his our mantra. We would rather have been able to approve this outright; but it is not the right thing to do, and we can't recommend that."

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to uphold Henderson's decision.

Commissioner Judy House said, "We have rules in our town, and we have to apply them uniformly to everyone."

Commissioner Marty Zwick said, "I believe we have to stand behind staff on this."

Matthew Storms, a real estate agent who was the listing agent when Greene bought the building in 2001, has said that Greene was given a town-required resale report at that time which should have alerted him to a problem with using the space for residential use. The report stated that a living unit had apparently been installed in the basement without permits and did not meet building code requirements for a habitable space. Depending on the angle the building is viewed from, Greene's apartment is either on the first floor or in the basement.

Storms said he told Greene the report indicated the conditions had to be corrected if the unit was to be used for living space.

Greene has maintained, however, that he didn't get that report until the middle of August 2005.

San Anselmo building official Keith Angerman has said he also notified Greene of a problem in 2005. Angerman said he told Greene that the Marin Municipal Water District had complained that a toilet had been installed in Greene's building without a permit. Angerman cited the resale report at that time and directed Greene to begin the process of applying for the proper permits.

Initially, Green argued that the unit should grandfathered in because it had been used continuously as a residential unit predating the current zoning laws. Town staff, however, found several witnesses who said the unit has not been used continuously as a residential unit. Greene has since conceded that the unit has not been continuously used for residential purposes.

"I kind of got pushed into this grandfathering thing," Greene said Monday. "That's a bogus standard, and it shouldn't be applied to me."

On Monday, Green maintained, however, that whether or not the studio space has been used continuously for residential purposes was immaterial. Greene said the unit was legal because it was not an illegal second unit but an apartment in a multifamily residential building, which is allowed under the current zoning.

Having lost his plea to have his unit declared legal, Greene moved on in the second half of Monday's meeting to apply for a conditional use permit.

Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at rhalstead@marinij.com