MARIN COUN T Y HAS an abundance of many things: hiking trails, water views and great farm-to- table food. But try buying a vacant lot here and you’ll discover what we lack most. Simply put: We have no lots.
There are few places with as little buildable “raw land”
as Marin. This past December, for example, there were 641
homes for sale, but only 128 lots. And even that number is
misleading because it assumes that all of the lots are viable,
which they are not. “These lots tend to be very challenged,”
says Ted Strodder, a realtor with Decker Bullock Sotheby’s.
“Either they’re too steep or they lack the necessary utilities
or there’s no road access, or all of the above.”
The offerings range from a $9,888,000 hillside lot
in Belvedere (a town notoriously tough to build in) to a
2,000-square-foot lot in Bolinas, selling for $9,995. While the
latter may seem like a smoking deal, consider how attached
you are to indoor plumbing. Bolinas currently has a water
meter moratorium in effect, which means that even if you
bought the lot and installed a 200-square-foot beach shack,
you’d have to run next door to use the neighbor’s toilet. Some
of the lots on the market are so undesirable that they’ve been
for sale for more than seven years — one of the many reasons
the teardown market is so hot.
Why is buildable land so scarce? For an answer, look at a
county map, which is s wathed in green. According to Tom Lai,
assistant director for the county’s Community Development
Agency, 84 percent of the county is designated as open space
or agricultural or has some kind of easement that precludes it
from being subdivided. “Marin is quite rare in the Bay Area,”
says Lai, “being so close to San Francisco and having so much
open space.” Or put another way: Where else is almost everyone within walking distance of a trailhead?
Paul Smith, a real estate attorney and former mayor of
There are few places with as little
Tiburon, says that we’re victims of our own success. He points
to the population boom expected in Marin after the Golden
Gate Bridge opened in 1937 and World War II ended. “There
were supposed to be a lot more people,” he says, “but we’ve
been very successful in shutting down development. The
unintended consequence is that our property values are very
high and so much of our land is protected and preserved that
there aren’t many buildable vacant lots left.”
It also explains why two magnificent properties — each
brimming with lots — remain undeveloped to this day. The first
is the 110-acre St. Vincent’s/Silveira property, which straddles
the divide between San Rafael and Ignacio. After many years of
buildable ‘raw land’ as Marin.
An empty lot at 218
Bayview Avenue in
Belvedere has sat for more
than seven years and is
available for $1.1 million.