Terra Linda

Picture this: a four-lane divided thoroughfare that exits a freeway, passes a shopping mall and goes for a mile through residential neighborhoods, then suddenly turns into … a biking and hiking trail. No way, you say? “Welcome to Terra Linda,” say the 10,000 residents of this spirited north San Rafael community.

The thoroughfare in question is the Manuel T. Freitas Parkway, named for the pioneer Marin rancher who once owned the land where Terra Linda now sits, and it does indeed exit Highway 101, pass the Northgate mall, and then travel a mile through lovely streets lined with homes (Terra Linda is Latin for “beautiful land”) before abruptly stopping at a sign stating, “Bike Trail.”

“I often wish they would have continued Freitas on through,” says Roberta Peek, who moved with husband Chuck and four-year-old son Jimmy into a brand-new house in Terra Linda on a June day in 1960. “On the other hand, I’m thrilled to death the county bought the rights to all that open space.” Interpretation: in the early 1970s, the Marin Open Space District purchased the ridge between Terra Linda and Ross Valley, thus precluding the four-lane Freitas Parkway from ever reaching its intended destination, the San Anselmo community of Sleepy Hollow. The open space that now thrills Roberta Peek was appropriately named the Terra Linda–Sleepy Hollow Divide.

What excites Peek’s next-door neighbor about Terra Linda is the way the city of San Rafael listens to what its residents have to say. “Democracy is alive and well here,” Shirley Fischer enthuses. “The planning process is very effective.” Specifically, she appreciates the way the Northgate mall and San Rafael are going about the 42-year-old shopping center’s multimillion-dollar renovation. “They’ll not only be spending 18 months and doing the job right,” she says, “they’re building a promenade between Northgate and Scotty’s Market that will create a new atmosphere in the center of our community.” Fischer, a 29-year resident of Terra Linda, has long been active in the town’s affairs.

Another involved resident is attorney Damon Connolly, who last November was elected to the San Rafael city council, effectively representing Terra Linda. “What I like about the place is its great mix of old and new residents and the terrific Dixie School District that gives kids a great education,” he says. “There’s also a number of homeowner associations that really take an interest in the community and get things done.” Among his favorite family hangouts: Three Twins Organic Ice Cream Store and Lo Coco’s Pizzeria next to the venerable Scotty’s Market, which opened in the early 1960s.

Other Terra Linda institutions include Terra Linda High School, Kaiser Permanente Hospital, a spectacular neighborhood swimming pool at the Terra Linda Community Center and, of course, Northgate (as part of its current renovation, the word “Mall” has been dropped from all references to the 725,000-square-foot retail, dining and entertainment complex).

As for those lovely homes, realtor Lori Saia Odisio says the “buy-in” price here is “about $775,000, give or take $10,000.” That will get you a four-bedroom, two-bath single-story home with about 1,800 square feet. “Terra Linda is a family community,” adds the 25-year area resident, who works out of Frank Howard Allen’s downtown San Rafael office. “If it’s too far for kids to walk to school, the bus service gets them there no problem.”

The lowest Terra Linda home price in recent memory, Odisio says, was “$550,000 for a four-bedroom, two-bath home on an 8,000-square-foot lot.” And the highest? “In 2008, the record so far is $1,325,000 for a seven-bedroom, six-bath, two-story pool home on a 10,000-square-foot lot.” The highest-priced-ever sale in this area was nearly four years ago: “It was $1.5 million for a one-of-a-kind hillside home with commanding views and an acre-size lot,” says Odisio, who sold 24 homes in 2007.

So how’s business now? “I’m working twice as hard and, well, getting good results. Terra Linda is consistent; there’ll always be a market for homes here.”