The Novato City Council voted 5-0 Tuesday night to certify the town’s Housing Element, a part of the General Plan that sets aside potential sites for new development. All, but one of the five sites are theoretical because no developer has yet expressed interest in them.
But residents worry the projects, all of which have allocations for some affordable housing units, will eventually be built, lowering property values and impacting quality of life issues like traffic and noise.
At least two dozen residents spoke against the allocated sites and some even went as far as to say Novato should forgo the nearly $900,000 in transportation funds from the state rather than approve what they described as a “faulty” document.
“This awful state law from Sacramento forces municipalities to take actions opposed by a majority of their residents; it pits one neighborhood against another in a nasty game called pin the tail on the donkey,” said Ken Lowe, who lives in northern Novato where two of the proposed sites would be located.
“When you approved Atherton Ranch, you created an obligation to undertake compatible development...You cannot reverse course as you’re doing tonight without calling into question your own commitment to fair dealing.”
All of the developments will include 20 percent affordable housing units for families making between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, which would be interspersed with market-rate homes.
Community Development Director Bob Brown said the city was already late in turning in its Housing Element projections, which were due this summer.
“Lacking a certified housing element, we are open to litigation and lawsuits,” Brown said Tuesday. “Pleasanton recently lost a prolonged legal battle over its failure to achieve a certified housing element, losing a $4 million in the process...as well as Corte Madera 16 years ago...There are no more extensions available. We’ve played out the timeline as long as we possibly can.”
In the past four years Novato has been discussing the Housing Element, the city has already reduced its Regional Housing Needs Allocation numbers, Brown said, allowing for less density, which would be lost if the city failed to certify its Housing Plan.
Other residents were concerned about “undue concentration” of the new developments because two of the five proposed sites are located in northern Novato on Redwood Boulevard. City planners said the spots were selected from about 100 original locations based on what was available. An ad hoc working group then zeroed in on the existing sites.
1787 Grant and Novato Boulevard
McClay Rd @ South Novato Boulevard
Redwood Boulevard and San Marin Drive
7506 Redwood Boulevard, the vacant property next to Trader Joe's.
Some residents were concerned about zoning that would make it possible for another homeless shelter to open in Bel Marin Keys, less than two miles from the existing New Beginning Center on Hamilton Parkway.
"If these shelters are built, we will have an undesirable concentration of homeless shelters in our area,’ said Merry Alberigi, a Bel Marin Keys resident.
Another resident criticized the zoning saying there were no guarantees that multiple shelters wouldn't be built in the area.
City staff the fears are baseless because there are currently no proposals to build a homeless shelter.
"It's a lot of concern for something that's unlikely to happen," Brown said. "Because who builds shelters? It's nonprofits and there is a lot of work required to make it happen. You need a lot of money and the for-profits are not doing it."
The Housing Element will now be turned into the state by January 2014.
What do you think about Tuesday's vote? Are you a family that makes under $100,000 in total annual income? Will this plan help you afford to live in Novato? Sound off in the comments below.