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City Council and Planning Commission Accept Draft Housing Element

Monday’s joint meeting provided a review of revisions and forum for public input.

A series of public forums and four years of meetings have culminated in the Novato City Council and Planning Commission accepting a revised Draft Housing Element. The two department held a joint meeting Monday night and the following missive from City Hall was dispatched later in the evening:

Tonight, the City Council and Planning Commission accepted the Draft Housing Element for environmental review, which was revised by staff in response to comments received by the State Department of Housing and Community Development (State) in December 2012. Based on the input received tonight by the Council, Commission, and community, the document will be revised and the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will begin. It is anticipated that the EIR will be available for public review this fall, and the Planning Commission will hold public hearings on both the EIR and the Draft Housing Element.

The preparation of an Environmental Impact Report, which is required for the draft Housing Element, will identify any potential environmental impacts resulting from its implementation and project alternatives and mitigation measures to avoid or reduce those potential impacts.

“The action taken by the Council tonight allows us to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said City Manager Michael Frank. “After nearly four years of discussion, outreach, and hard work, we believe that ultimately, the Housing Element we submit to the State will meet their requirements and will reflect the unique housing needs of our community.”

Once the Planning Commission makes its recommendation to the City Council, adoption hearings would follow, and a final Housing Element would be submitted to the State for certification.

The Housing Element Update is a policy guide that indicates the need for housing in a community— specifically, the availability, affordability, and adequacy of housing—and also serves as a strategy to address housing needs across the economic and social spectrum of that community. Cities and counties are required by law to update their housing elements every eight years, and this represents an update to the City’s current 2007-2014 cycle, as part of its General Plan update. The next cycle covers 2014-2022.

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Tina McMillan April 04, 2013 at 03:20 AM
Right now people that live in Novato go to Northgate, the Village, Petaluma Outlet Stores and the Santa Rosa Mall. I know they were working on a Redwood Corridor Plan but I notice the recent Economic Development Committee meetings were all cancelled. I would really like to see shops that kept folks local and met a need. Then the city could fund local projects like the Community Garden without the current tab of $200,000 just to get up and running. It seems like we are so broke that anytime anyone wants to create something new they are made responsible for upgrades to roads including sidewalks. I think that is part of what happened to the Community Garden folks. Then there is the Bicycle Pump Track out by Stafford that also must do a ton of fundraising. It would be so wonderful if Novato could afford to do its own improvement to roads and sidewalks so we could add development that is more focused on recreation. Does anyone know what happened to the proposal for the Sports Center at Hamilton?
Roger April 04, 2013 at 03:25 AM
Bob Brown did say that Redwood north of San Marin is not the place for retail. He said it is a place for high-paying jobs or AH housing. I vote for high-paying jobs. We need to give the Buck Center bio-tech researchers places to set up their startup companies here. The Council put the Smart station here because experts said most train users will be workers coming to Marin, in this case at Fireman's Fund and nearby. Well, that suggests an office building should be at Wood Hollow, not AH. Why bother doing zoning, if every developer can change it later as his will?
Ventress Dugan April 04, 2013 at 03:31 AM
Novato needs high end jobs, without question, and high end retail! We do not need any more of the same. Novato needs to think outside of the box!
Tina McMillan April 04, 2013 at 03:44 AM
We need every acre of commercial space kept or replaced. Our urban growth boundary limits where we can build once we give up a space. San Rafael has 17% of its land zoned commercial while Novato only has 5%. I still can't believe the difference is that huge.
Baxter April 04, 2013 at 04:47 PM
Tina, Trish, Al, Bob R., Elinor, and those of you "in the know"....I watched the video of Tuesday's proposal to revise the General Plan presented by Bob Brown. He mentioned DC&E Consultant who did up a master plan for the "North Redwood Corridor" back in 2008. This plan was put on hold due to the preparation for the Housing Element. I'm assuming that this DC&E master plan is now obsolete or will Brown bring it back? I'm recommending to the City that during this new General Plan master-minding that the properties north of San Marin Drive, up to and including Birkenstock, be designated a "name" as soon as possible and not referred to as "North Redwood Blvd" (which original plan did not include these properties). It has been confusing over the last couple of years when citizens refer to North Redwood Blvd. It should be North Redwood (north of San Marin) and Mid-Redwood (south of San Marin to Grant). Brown refers to north of San Marin Dr. as "North-North Redwood Blvd." Could the City please refer to it as "Burdell Foothills" or something else. The designation as "San Marin Business Park" may not be the case if these properties are re-zoned from business to residential. And, hopefully that will not be the case. We need businesses close to the Atherton Train Station (which is another confusing name). Why it isn't called the San Marin Train Station, I don't know - but I think we're stuck with it because SMART owns it now. Please comment on the above. Thanks.
T.Sprocket April 04, 2013 at 05:44 PM
Tina interested to hear how can you draw a comparison between downtown Petaluma and downtown Novato and the north Redwood site which is .50 -.75 miles away? I would put to you that a smartly developed Redwood project, which it will be, would have an even more drastic affect on siphoning shoppers from Grant. Especially when you consider the disasterous effect that the city campus has/will wreak on downtown parking. The north Redwood coordior project will become a destination with chain type restaurants, diverse retail stores, ample parking, and out door sitting/gathering areas. Look at both Hamilton Marketplace and is and imagine a development 5x the size with more and better options. Both of which lure away from downtown as well. Grant Ave will be left with serious parking issues, a mish mosh of revolving door retail, an empty theatre, & 3 empty city buildings on Grant. Thank you city council. To state that Grant will benefit from the Redwood project is ridiculous. We expect more from you Tina. If downtown merchants are objecting to the Redwood development they should turn their ire towards the city council who pushed their ridiculous city campus project. They should also blame themselves, the DNBA and the Chamber of Commerce who let the council proceed with their horrible planning and their abuse of tax payer funds for their projects. Redwood cooridor will become the "new downtown" and will benefit all of Novato. It will not benefit Grant Ave.
Trish Boorstein April 04, 2013 at 06:52 PM
Baxter, the Council overwhelmingly approved the reports that were taken from this period. DC&E contract was terminated. The city is relying on the Community Survey (March 2009), Visioning Workbook and Community Forum (July 2009), General Plan Update Steering Committee (2009-2010), Existing Conditions Report (2009), Vision Statement (2009), and North Redwood Boulevard Planning Study (2009). If you were involved in community outreach during this time, you should consult with any of these manuals and city to determine if they reflect the community voice that was involved during this time.
Tina McMillan April 04, 2013 at 07:23 PM
Sprocket Novato lacks sufficient property and sales tax revenue. Developing the area along Grant from 7th Street to the Depot and then from Redwood at Delong to Redwood at San Marin could become out downtown core of Business/Commercial/Retail. The pockets of housing that surround Grant from Redwood to 7th are zoned residential. That means adding more businesses along Redwood and Grant would return shoppers to the downtown area. You need lots of businesses in order to have lots of shoppers, including out of town shoppers. Many families leave Novato to buy elsewhere. If we bring in more out of town shoppers then the retail and restaurants along Grant will have a larger customer base. Limiting choices doesn't guarantee business for our existing merchants. Adding to their customer base is key. If we put in a mix of retail with commercial above then the fees from business licenses and the enhanced customer base for local businesses would bring us more revenue. I agree parking in Old Town is a problem. The city let down the merchants when they decided to put in offices but no parking structure. They just paid SMART for land near the depot. I don't know if that could become a parking structure like the ones in San Rafael and Petaluma but we would need far more downtown businesses to cover the cost of such a project. If we provide parking in Old Town as well as on Redwood we could create a walkable area of store fronts/restaurants/businesses.
T.Sprocket April 04, 2013 at 08:10 PM
Tina I'm not saying that the Redwood cooridor project is a bad idea. I'm saying we need it and it will probably be done well. This will encourage more shoppers to go there to dine and shop and draw people away from downtown Novato. Other well planned retail developments have accomplished this already. Vintage Oaks, the Hamilton Marketplace, Peets/Chipotle/Smashburger development, and the Pardise Foods/Boca Pizza complex in Ignacio all consistently draw customers away from downtown Novato. What I am saying is that due to the distance (more than 3/4 of a mile), the hodge podge of businesses, the multiple busy intersections, ect..that there is no way in hell that downtown Novato will be linked to the north Redwood cooridor project. It will never happen despite what high priced city employee who wear sweaters around their necks and smile like a cat who just ate a fat mouse and promise trolleys and helicopters to cart people from Watts Music to Whole Foods says. Whew. Long run on sentence there. Consider that the city has failed to open a small theatre for 20 years. Factor in that city owned properties dot downtown and have been vacant for almost 10yrs. And the city will be able to tie these two areas in together?? Comon. Seriously Tina? They can't tie Sherman Ave to Grant Ave! Common sense and reality were excluded from your thought process on this one.. It's ok to reverse field on this one Tina.
Tina McMillan April 04, 2013 at 08:21 PM
T Sprocket I disagree. I think it is essential that we tie together these cross sections in order to maximize our downtown potential. The city spent millions of dollars on upgrades along Grant only to drive existing businesses into the ground. In part this was due to the way in which the improvement were made. San Rafael's 4th Street was a much better planned and implemented process. If you look at the length of 4th Street and the business district that stretches out along its full length it is possible to combine new development with existing development in a manner that draws clients, customers and shoppers. The key is convenient parking interspersed throughout the area; attractive design that makes new shoppers continue to walk along streets to look at what is being offered in the way of retail, restaurants, and commercial; and to support existing businesses rather than tax them into the ground. I have many complaints about the way the city does business on the back of residents least able to support it but I can't give up on the future turning this pattern around. For development on Redwood to work it must be integrated with Grant Avenue and the parking issue must be addressed. I think putting city offices downtown was a poor use of one time funds but its a done deal. We still have the remaining old broken down buildings to either rehab or tear down. There is always more to do....
Eleanor Sluis April 05, 2013 at 12:45 AM
Baxter- Great idea in advocating a new name for North North redwood- thanks- please gather names and present it to the city council. Tina- good ideas for the area below the Buck Center- of retail-and integrating aesthetics and buildings with Grant Ave, thanks. Consider a science or technological museum or an environmental museum, or a sports facility - for men who are not interested in “shop and spend” but want interactive facilities for themselves, families, and their children. Consider that the Chamber wants a moratorium on development until there is a better plan. Retail services of high-end shops cater to women more than men. Cars, trucks, bikes, wheels, oil, lumber, and materials are important in a man’s world. Keeping Redwood’s light industrial area is as valid as keeping Grant as an old town experience. Shopping in Hamilton only can go so far, same in Corte Madera. An interactive transportation museum may bring more people to Novato and more funds than another status quo shopping mall. A sports facility should not be built at Hamilton due to its residential character, better near the highway or on the garbage dump when it closes. I agree there is always more to do.
Al Dugan April 05, 2013 at 02:50 AM
Roger, I agree 100%. This land should be set up to offer companies the incentive to build and operate life science and biotech operations that could tie in very well with the Buck Center and provide high paying jobs for Novato.
Al Dugan April 05, 2013 at 04:56 AM
Well, that says it all. Thanks Bob.
Tina McMillan April 05, 2013 at 04:14 PM
The land at Hamilton being considered for a state of the art youth and adult Sports Complex is not suitable for residential because of the landfill. Novato is home to many people, young and old, that participate in or support activities related to sports. We are in a similar position that the county was in with Grady Ranch. While the project theme is different, the opportunity it represents is the common ground. The county kept creating obstacles to development that resulted in Lucas giving up on creating a film production studio that would have provided local, well paid jobs in an industry with room for growth. A Sports Complex would bring needed revenue to Novato. I think the city is wise to use the opportunity to upgrade the General Plan to anticipate how they will integrate commercial/retail/entertainment type growth along Grant and Redwood. The types of businesses that ultimately go there will be ones that can afford to build there. Chris Stewart is the Economic Development Director. He may have a better idea of who is showing interest and how it will help create revenue for the city. The recent city council meetings encouraged residents to write to the council with feedback about the General Plan and the Housing Element. Now is the time to get involved.
Roger April 05, 2013 at 07:39 PM
Tina, I agree Grant business/retail should be tied with high-end shops planned near Trader Joes, but how do you do that exactly? I agree that right now most shoppers don't come close to Grant, but at least new shops at Joe's would get more shoppers within a few blocks of Grant. Chamber, think about that carefully before you ban the new shops with your control of most of the Council members.
Eleanor Sluis April 06, 2013 at 04:59 AM
Hamilton residents would like a small park with a playing field, not a 1700 parking area, with lights, liquor, and ball fields out of proportion to the city’s agreement to protect Hamilton residents from this egregious facility being proposed. The money is not worth it. The city has the Mission Lodge project on hold of 40-60 units, 3-4 story high over the frontage road and cutting down the redwood trees. No setbacks and little space for parking. The money is not worth it. The city is planning with the Transportation District funds to build a bus station in front of Mc Donald’s and change Redwood Blvd into a straight away and cut more trees. The money spent is wasteful. This information has been given over the last six months and may be interpreted in different ways- Call the city manager and the Community Developer for their take and they may say that nothing has been forthcoming. Remember when Bob Brown said that San Rafael moved so many projects at once that those who questioned them did not have enough time to study the impacts. My concern is if many projects like the above will happen very quickly to Novato and ruin the downtown business district without adequate planning because the City and the developers will be in a hurry to build and by pass due diligence and funding issues promised as transparency. Will the General plan be rushed and also the EIR for housing? Better planning is needed.
Roger April 06, 2013 at 05:23 AM
Eleanor, shifting the bus stop closer to McDonalds may actually be safer because many times I have seen passengers walk across Redwood from the bus pad in the middle of Redwood and almost get hit by a car. Do you happen to know why the Mission Lodge project is on hold? I suspect it is the same reason Hanna Ranch isn't being built....a very uncertain economic future. What other inside City scoop can you share with Patch readers?
Ventress Dugan April 06, 2013 at 06:14 AM
What is happening with Mission Lodge??? I have passed it both day and night and no one is living there. I hear from various sources that a four story building is in the process of permits. I think that this is being introduced as affordable housing. I am curious as why this being kept under wraps. I would like to know if this in the General Downtown Plan? Why no info to the public? Am I going to drive by one day and see construction ? Does anyone have info?
Tina McMillan April 06, 2013 at 03:48 PM
Mission Lodge is being designed as Senior Housing. It has the 20% inclusionary AH. If you go to the website the owner and the architect continue to reach out to the public through the entire process. Developing this property for predominantly market rate senior housing is a good thing. http://www.novatomissionlodge.com/about_owner.php
Tina McMillan April 06, 2013 at 04:30 PM
There is no plan to push many projects at once. These two projects are moving slowly through the approval process and are each at different stages. If you look at the timeline for Mission Lodge it goes out to 2015. The potential Sports Arena is still in the discussion stages. http://www.novatomissionlodge.com/about_owner.php In 2010 the Mendelsohn family approached the city, the feds and local residents about building a state of the art youth and adult sports complex at Hamilton. A Novato city memo dated June 14 of 2011 opens talks to discuss if this area could be used in this manner: (In 1999 the Hamilton Community Park Plan was created. It incorporated Recreational Reuse of Federal Landfill 26 and Ammo Hill. Multi use ball fields, batting cages, and volley ball areas are some suggested uses.) The last time I read about the Sports Complex on Patch there were some residents supporting it and some against. Novato is home to people with many different interests. Not every project can be a park or a museum. It would really help the city if we had new projects that brought in revenue and created activities. The area at Hamilton is not designated open space. It was meant for recreational uses. Many people would enjoy watching and playing baseball and other sports. The revenue from this project would pay for city services.
Sylvia Barry April 07, 2013 at 02:55 PM
From Mission Lodge website - the property is less than one acre and they are proposing a 57 units senior housing? This is at the gateway into Downtown Novato. "The Mission Lodge Property is currently 41817.6 square feet, a little less than one acre." "We first turned our sights on a residential land use that could facilitate a small number of senior apartments with first floor retail tenants – a mixed use project." ... 'but after more analysis and neighborhood input we abandoned the retail component of the project to propose a complete senior housing project of 57 units." http://www.novatomissionlodge.com/about_approach.php
Roger April 07, 2013 at 03:00 PM
Our Council just seems to wait for developers to come up with ideas and then says OK. It was Mothers of Novato that got Trader Joe's and Whole Foods here. The Council should get active in creating incentives for tech startup firms to locate here. San Marin has a great biotech class with students getting intern work at the Buck Center. The Council should ask local tech companies what they think of converting the land near the Buck Center zoned for business to residential? Yes, ask non-retail companies (not the Chamber) what the City can do to help them attract smart new employees and grow here locally! I suspect the tech companies will say good local schools are important. Sadly, lots and lots of AH actually hurts the funding for schools. I saw on the Housing Element that of all the housing added to Hamilton over the last 15 years, that over half is AH. Is that really sustainable for funding of City services?
Trish Boorstein April 07, 2013 at 05:42 PM
Sylvia, in the link below you see how the owner has to purchase additional property to make site larger. Does your sq.ft. include the addition? It looks like the neighbors were very involved and heard. Any comments from neighbors? http://www.novatomissionlodge.com/issues.php
Craig Belfor April 07, 2013 at 05:46 PM
Things I have learned from this blog: 1) Novato has only 5% of it's land zoned commercial, while Both Petaluma and San Rafael have 10% 2) Novato has 20% the population of Marin, but 33% of the affordable housing. They get the industry ( and jobs, tax dollars, etc.), we get the housing.(no taxes, only increased police, fire, etc.) 3) Bob Brown heads up our planning force, and is a member of SUNN, the pimps who posted my finacial information on the internet when I blogged against more AH. 4) Warner Creek, the senior AH complex, has only 9 residents from Novato, while the rest come from out of the city and county. 5) The locations to pick up applications for the lottery to get into Warner Creek were in Hayward, San Rafael, Marin City, Mill Valley, and Petaluma, but not only none in Novato, but the fact that there was an application process was not even publicized in Novato. 5)The city ended up paying $160,000 per Novato resident to live in Warner Creek, enough to buy a condo in Crossroads. The rest of Marin, Sonoma, and east bay paid ZERO! Am I crazy, or is everyone else?
Craig Belfor April 07, 2013 at 05:55 PM
Note to Tina-- Jerome actually went the genlteman's route and got the required signatures to put his initiative (enforce the federal law requiring verification for jobs) on the ballot. E-Verify would protect legal immigrants from getting outbid in both jobs and housing. The feds, realized that employers and landlords were getting away with murder, knowing illegals couldn't complain, and were hurting honest legal residents by stacking the deck. The city council refused to put it on the ballot, saying "it could go the wrong way". Onlty then did he sue, to enforce the constitutional process. He funded it himself, against the council's lawyers and the developers' lawyers, and ran out of money. We have now lost our right to the referendum process, and it will come back to bite us later. You'll see. When the 67% of Novato residents who are homeowners realize that much of their taxes go to support thugs from out of town, they'll try to get an initiative on the ballot, but the council will kick it off, so we won't even get the chance to vote on our future.
Tina McMillan April 07, 2013 at 05:59 PM
Chris Stewart is the Economic Development Director that was hired just last year. Through Chris's office, the city is reaching out to fill open commercial spaces throughout Novato. Chris was responsible for Fireman's Fund locating here. He has previously headed three economic development agencies. On the one hand it is a more difficult time to get companies to spend money on expansion. No one knows yet how the cost to do business in California will be affected by the federal health care laws and California's changing laws. On the other hand, low interest loans have never been better so companies that are in solid shape may want to take advantage of real estate prices or lease space for expansion. I keep hoping they will find a tenant that can draw a large customer base to the old Pini site. It would help anchor Grant west of Redwood. Then there is the Square which is in desperate need of anchor stores and a complete remodel. Now is the time to reach out to the city with ideas and comments so that they know we are involved. Please consider emailing Chris with ideas. cstewart@novato.org
Sylvia Barry April 07, 2013 at 06:33 PM
Thanks, Trish, for the link. A quick glance - I can see they are planning to purchase Frontage road from the city so they can have enough land and setback from Redwood as well as the gasline underneath. Interesting how they have 84 votes (wonder where these 84 came from?) on their 04/05/12 meeting, with options for 3 or 4 stories, with maximum height of 43', instead of having options for 1, 2, 3, 4 or none of the above to vote. So, 50+% voted for 3 stories and 40+% voted 4 stories. Also interesting to see how on 08/09/12, they met with three 'close' neighbors which ended up to be four people to discuss the options. Another interesting observation is how the options changed from 37 units with 65 parking spaces on 04/05/12 to 58 units with 49 parking spaces on 05/10/12 to 55 units on 07/26/12 with 48 parking spaces. The lot size (I suppose they assume the successful acquisition of the frontage road) varies from 1.46 acre, to 1.46 to 1.28 acres. Not sure how you calculated the density, but if I use the numbers on the slide (slide 8 of 07/26/12 presentation), it will translate to 25.34/39.72/42.96 respectively? Another interesting thing is the team they assembled. Sorry, gonna run for work; a quick glance, as I said.
Tina McMillan April 07, 2013 at 06:37 PM
Craig I know Jerome used the initiative process and took the time to get the requisite signatures for the initiative. The problem was that at the same time there were rumbles throughout California because Everify was being used for some jobs but not all jobs, e.g., farmworkers. There were cities that enacted laws to implement Everify only to have them undone when the state made a unilateral decision against Everify. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/oct/16/local/la-me-e-verify-20111017 When Jerome sued the city it was clear that California had not decided as a state whether the system would be applied to every person and every type of job. While there is a lot that I disagree with the council about, it became clearer to me why they held off even putting it on the ballot. If California had decided to allow Everify that would have been the time to either enact it or put it on the ballot to let residents decide. California desperately needs immigration reform. Instead we get plastic bag bans. I can appreciate Jerome's frustration but in my experience litigation rarely solves problems. The city made the right call. No one knew which way the state would land.
Craig Belfor April 07, 2013 at 10:41 PM
You have a point, Tina, but denying the people the initiative process is wrong. We need it to put measures on the ballot when our elected officials won't. We don't want to be Bell, and a say at the polls is one way to steer the right course. I don't always agree with Jerome, but we both believe in the Constitution..
Tina McMillan April 07, 2013 at 11:48 PM
Craig: I don't think the city denied the initiative process when they said putting it on the ballot wouldn't work because it had not yet been decided at the state level. We can't have local laws that don't conform to state laws. California E-Verify Law http://immigration.findlaw.com/immigration-laws-and-resources/california-state-immigration-laws.html "While a number of other states require the use of E-Verify, recent legislation signed into law in California instead restricts the use of E-Verify in the state. Under its legislation, California has prohibited municipalities, counties, and other state government entities from passing mandatory E-Verify ordinances that apply to private employers. As a result, private employers in California are not required to use E-Verify, although they remain free to do so voluntarily."

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