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Council Gives Thumbs Up on City Office Design, Pending Tweaks

Architects trying to find right fit for roof on new 22,600-square-foot structure across from police station.

The feedback was mostly positive Tuesday night as the Novato City Council offered its take on the design progress for the in Old Town.

However, moving one of the old city-owned bungalows on Sherman Avenue to make more room for the bigger complex next door might have been a good idea. That’s what several members of the council and public said when architects in charge of designing a new home for about 60 city workers — worth $12 million to $15 million — went over their revised plans.

The Scott House, just across the City Green from , had a spotlight on it as the topic of the eastern side of administrative offices was discussed. Some have said the Scott House at 917 Sherman Ave. ought to be moved to the other side of Sherman to prevent access and aesthetic problems with the new building. The idea was not a new one, but Councilwoman Pat Eklund inquired about whether it could be done in conjunction with the city administrative office project.

But that’s when City Manager Michael Frank interjected and said it’s basically too late to entertain that idea.

“I can see that the project team is chilled by those comments,” he said. “If council wants to do that, we’d be backing up about two months. … It would be changing most of … actually, everything.”

Architects Bart McClelland and Steve Worthington of agreed with Frank, saying it would be quite a setback to the process. But Worthington said the new building is being designed to work well whether the Scott House remains or gets moved.

The Scott House and a cluster of other city buildings were red-tagged by the fire marshal in 2004, forcing city staffers to find a new place to work. The city has leased space at 75 Rowland Way since 2005 but is trying to find a permanent home before rent gets doubled starting in October 2013. The council opted in May at Machin Avenue and Cain Lane, across Machin from the and directly behind the Scott House.

Eklund said the Scott House is affecting the way the new building will look and was concerned about having the main entrance halfway between Sherman and Machin.

“It’s too bad we didn’t have that discussion early on, in-depth,” she said about the Scott House location.

Overall, the council’s feedback was positive for RMW. “This was a vast improvement from the last time,” Mayor Madeline Kellner said.

There was council support for the general site plan, the formation of a site review committee and a gabled roof rather than roof sloped at an angle toward the Novato Community House to the south. Public contributors and council members agreed with that a gabled roof — with a small flat portion at the very top but otherwise sloped to each side of the building — would fit in better with the nearby buildings.

Eklund was in favor of erecting story poles so the public can visualize the scale of the new structure, but other council members said that wasn’t helpful or necessary.

Earlier in the meeting, McClelland said the design team is focused on “making the building more diminutive and less in-your-face,” following suggestions that the structure not cramp the recently renovated Novato City Hall a few feet away. He said the team, which includes six other design firms, took to heart feedback that the building fit better into the existing neighborhood.

Worthington went over the building’s footprint and discussed a new option for parking. The first plan includes 27 parking spaces directly under the building plus three outdoor spots on Cain Lane and 32 outdoor spots between the building and the Novato Community House. An alternate plan would provide for 28 more parking spots directly under the open-air parking plaza, but the price tag would run about $1.6 million.

There was no support from the council on that choice because of the cost.

Worthington acknowledged the slightly sour response from the Novato Design Review Commission to the brick façade, sloped metal roof and wood shading louvers on the western side of the building. He said the team is looking at other options.

The public will get several chances to chime in over the next few weeks. A public workshop is set for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Nov. 5, at Novato City Hall, with the architects available to answer questions. On Nov. 9, the issue is to come before the Design Review Commission and, on the same night, the Novato City Council.

Here is more coverage of this issue from the .

FINNEGAN'S MARIN October 27, 2011 at 03:42 AM
Bob. Completely on the same page. I rely on you to follow up and drive home the "TRUE COST" of this project in your posts. Thank you for all your honest efforts! Henry
Bob Ratto October 27, 2011 at 03:56 AM
Yes, well we need to look at full cost here. The fact that the City is not even considering providing any parking during daytime is very telling..when 999 opens, Chipotle and the theater (fingers crossed) opens, it will be very interesting...the fact that 1100? (or is it more?) have signed a petition against this, while 600 apparently looked at something that said "would you like new city offices downtown?"-gee, would I like Ice cream instead of calves liver?..duh...but twice as many people signed something that was meaningful and specific, and you hear, "crickets"...that is what is so "in your face" about this whole thing. That, and the whole process...someone needs to come clean on what really happened here, I know something was not legit...
Edwin Drake October 27, 2011 at 04:59 AM
This is all related to keeping Redevelopment afloat. Must be. Why else did City Council pay $2.3 million to keep it alive, plus min. $500,000 yearly for foreseeable future. Long-term Redevelopment projections show there's basically zero additional tax income to the city if I read numbers correctly. Must be some Chamber or Commerce behind-the-scenes shenanigans. As usual, City Council is acting one-move at a time, with blinders on as to how one thing affects others. This is fatal flaw of council, they're playing hopscotch, when community development is more like chess. Plus: Scott House red-tagged 7 years ago? What's wrong, off-foundation? It's wood frame, never going to crash, just slowly lean to flat. Likewise Community House. On East Coast these buildings considered pups, very young. Why the talk about "steel framing?" What's that about? When did government become a special interest?
Bob Ratto October 27, 2011 at 05:01 AM
http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_19199585 When property tax rolls are rolled back for approximately 1/3 of homeowners this is a new term "tax decrement" financing...pretty sure those properties that were included in our redevelopment are included in this...so, take more money to the state, about $2.3MM per year -I don't remember exact, but not far off for S-itty hall, and I think we can all start to see where deficits will come from. For simple math, less money is coming in than before, and almost $5MM more is going out.
Gail Wilhelm October 27, 2011 at 06:02 AM
Boo Hoo, Grant Ave merchants have to take care of the sidewalk in front of their store. You don't travel much do you? In New York, Santa Fe, New Orleans, Paris, Rome, Amersterdam, Beijing and Istanbul merchants universally sweep up in front of their stores in the morning when they open. Some even hose the side walk down as well. Do all Novato merchants think city government owes them personalized maid service? Or just you?
Gail Wilhelm October 27, 2011 at 06:47 AM
More and more I'm thinking that the downtown needs an assessment district to finance a parking structure (as recommended in the Downtown Specific Plan) as well as to pay for regular sidewalk sweeping and monthly landscape maintenance. A very straighforward and simple remedy don't you think?
Tina McMillan October 27, 2011 at 07:19 AM
Gail Do you have any idea how difficult and costly it is to maintain a business in downtown Novato? No more assessments, no more charging merchants for what should be city supported ventures. If we are to believe that the city genuinely wants to maintain its redevelopment funds then it is obligated to create parking to support local merchants. The sales tax revenue generated by these businesses is what helps fill city coffers. I have watched far too many businesses close their doors due to Novato's fees and rules and lack of genuine understanding of what it takes to be a small, independent business owner. We don't need to spend $15 million on offices. It is exorbitant, it is unnecessary and it is a slap in the face to the small businesses and residents struggling to keep this city alive.
Tina McMillan October 27, 2011 at 07:42 AM
Gail Your attitude toward Henry is unconscionable. How can you possibly criticize merchants who held on through and after the insane rebuilding of Grant Avenue with its multicolored sidewalks, lack of parking spaces and poorly planned landscaping? These trees don't belong in a city street. They look terrible. Of course merchants take care of the property in front of their shops but they shouldn't have to clean up after the city makes mistakes in planning or be held responsible for parking that was repeatedly promised but not delivered. Do you realize we don't even have a single independent used or new bookshop in Novato anymore? A town of 50,000+ people and we can't keep an independent bookshop in business. We need to take a long hard look at how we treat small business owners and how we support their efforts. If all you want is big box stores capable of paying lots of fees then Old Town is surely doomed.
Gail Wilhelm October 27, 2011 at 10:03 AM
I am a business owner myself and have never entertained the notion that the taxpayers owe me anything. The key to my attitude is that I have disdain for very vocal obtuse hypocrites who stridently demand taxpayers subsidize their business. Which incidentally is why I support the premise underlying the OWS movement.
Bob Ratto October 27, 2011 at 01:01 PM
Tina Downtown is already one of the three redevelopment districts for the City-others being Hamilton and Vintage Oaks. To even propose additional taxes on businesses while the City builds a $43MM building for 32 hours per week shows a complete lack of common sense. Extending out the "illogic", if we find a pothole in the street, we should patch it, if a streetlight goes out, climb the pole and fix it...heck, maybe it is the way of the future. City workers, great offices, citizens, clean the streets
Susan Clark October 27, 2011 at 03:23 PM
Gail Wilhelm's attitude is clearly one of "It's her way or the highway!" Never mind the taxpayers and the heart of downtown-merchants. Maybe we should just engrave her name "somewhere" and she'll might go away.
T. Allen October 27, 2011 at 03:56 PM
I'd read the IJ article- it was well researched and they endorsed Kellner, MacLeamy and Lucan. Leslie and Jerome are described as stone throwers with little substance to back them up. Leslie is a single issue candidate trying to keep the school district from building on their empty lot near her house. What she has forgotten is that one of the only and best ways for school district to raise much needed revenue is by using its assets, whether for market rate homes or for a combination of market rate and employee homes. So if you want to handcuff the Novato School District- by all means vote for Leslie. Jerome is - well- his signs say enough don't you think? Of course, the fact that he is currently suing the City of Novato for several million dollars which could be better spent on city services is something to consider. The Pacific Sun also endorsed Kellner and MacLeamy, but Ellie instead of Eric (which is odd if you ask me). I think Eric is too conservative for the liberal PacSun. The Chamber endorsed Kellner, Lucan and MacLeamy. I think this threesome is the best of the bunch with the experience, smarts and collaborative spirit to best represent us. Actually Leslie didn't get a single endorsement, after which her spin master campaign manager declared she isn't seeking them! Funny!
Worry October 27, 2011 at 03:59 PM
Wilhelm's stances here are indicative of why our country, its states and towns are in such terrible financial straits. She is willing to rob taxpayer funds to finance an unnecessary city project costing tax payers in excess of $43 million with negligible benefits to a single Novato taxpayer. Outrageous projects like this one, where towns have just had to pass tax increases to fund budget shortfalls, result in bankruptcy. Vallejo and Harrisburg PA, both bankrupt, encountered similar mismanagement of taxpayer funds. Gail is fine with outrageous government spending. Her aggrandizing of this city office project while mocking the valid finacial concerns of thousands here is repulsive. It seems she views history and current events through a very selective lens. While city governments around the country and around the world are failing due to ignoring basic economic tenants (don't spend what you don't have) she hammers away to spend $43 million of taxpayer money when $7 million dollar options exist and the city sits with tens of thousands sq feet of vacant city owned real estate. She then touts her involvement in Occupy Wall Street, bashing the financial abuses shortcomings there. Selfish, inconsistent and hypocritical.
Trish Boorstein October 27, 2011 at 04:20 PM
Maybe in addition to the petition to not build the new offices, the community should also collect signatures for a petition to build a parking structure instead. Maybe it could be handed to the new City Council in November. Sentiments might be different then.
Tina McMillan October 27, 2011 at 04:39 PM
T Allen I read the IJ article too and promptly responded with a resounding NO! They have misrepresented the character of candidates and ignored their stance on the issues. This kind of bias in reporting is unfortunate but has been a tradition of the IJ for many years. You seem to share some sense of bias in that you have put the candidates into camps based on your perception of whether they are liberal or conservative. It is unfortunate. If you would examine their position on issues I think you would be more effective in your comments. The IJ will not do my thinking for me. Gone are the days of receiving endorsements in the mail from parties telling me how to vote. I prefer to do my own research and choose a candidate that reflects my concerns for my community. Take a look at Leslie's site and read about the many issues she will address as a city council member. And for once, set aside your perception of party affiliation. I believe you are barking up the wrong tree when you use these labels in this race. http://lesliepetersonschwarze.com/fa/ VOTE LESLIE PETERSEN SCHWARZE FOR NOVATO CITY COUNCIL.
T. Allen October 27, 2011 at 05:59 PM
Tina, I am admittedly solidly a Democrat. But in addition to Madeline Kellner who is the only Democrat running worthy of a vote, I will likely also support Eric Lucan and Jeanne Macleamy who are both Republican. They offer experience but most importantly, civility and respect that Leslie doesn't have. Leslie rolled her eyes at anyone speaking at school Board meetings that she doesn't agree with. She doesn't believe in climate change...really? She has no experience to deal with the fiscal crises we are facing. She listed Businesswoman on the ballot, but never had a business. She is a single issue candidate, and a negative person. I don't care that she is extremely right wing as much as I care that she is not a collaborative person. Anyone who was involved in the school Board issues of anti bullying we faced a decade ago would know that. She actually said at one Board meeting that bullying isn't a big deal and builds character. I see her trying to bully her way onto the council now, and I think it is a big deal.
kai lancaster October 27, 2011 at 06:06 PM
I propose an organized, respectful, meeting between the city and the public to answer questions. I've met with a couple counsel members and asked questions, and I've received answers - some answers I liked, some I didn't, and some I didn't quite buy. Regardless of my personal feelings, I would like to understand the facts about the money. This, I believe, would answer the question as to why we are pushing so hard to this building done in such a short time. Would anyone else be up for a 4 hour 'discussion' with the city? I would volunteer to coordinate.
Christine October 27, 2011 at 07:20 PM
Gail, Your comment to Henry is unkind as well as unnecessary. His comments were not a complaint, rather a statement of fact.
Bob Ratto October 28, 2011 at 12:53 AM
Kai That would be a definite "YES", like I will drop everything, and be there "YES"!
Tina McMillan October 28, 2011 at 01:58 AM
Kai I have had email responses from council members that indicated they would be willing to speak to individual members of the public. My reservation is that I do not believe that anything short of a change in leadership will stop the plan to build the downtown offices based on their actions. If I thought the council would do more than mollify critics I would see this as a positive step. Dennis Cooper has brought up important questions regarding the redevelopment district pay back through bond funding, brown act violations based on how the bond funds were designed and the false bias against purchasing an existing building based on the recommendations of the consulting construction firm. The city knew in December when the bonds were funded that there was no way to purchase an existing building like 75 Rowland because the tax free status of the bonds precludes the purchase of a space that would also serve as income producing property. Yet the city presented this as if it were still an option. If you follow Dennis's posts the council is either negligent or stretching the truth in such a manner as to violate the Brown Act. I don't believe we will see any change before the election and that after, if both Madeline and Jeanne return, it will continue to be an uphill battle to get to the truth.
Edwin Drake October 28, 2011 at 04:36 AM
Asking nicely: T Allen, Please explain to me why It's more important to be civil than to follow established laws and procedures. Does niceness count more than ignoring public laws and spending the city into a hole. Yes, by all means, let's all be nice to each other. Then again, what's that old saw about heat in the kitchen?
Bob Ratto October 28, 2011 at 04:59 AM
Edwin Some people probably just have axes to grind, and need to vent on issues, which have really Nothing to do with current issues at hand, but that's kind of how it goes. This bit about "bullying" - this seems to be new PC word, I am going to try and work it into daily vocabulary. Progress being made on other issue, need to figure out how to monetize (in a small way).
kai lancaster October 28, 2011 at 09:10 PM
Edwin, maybe you're more familiar or comfortable with the word 'intimidating', rather than 'bullying'. Either way, I've experienced it first hand regarding this issue, and, well, it's quite ugly no matter what it's called.
kai lancaster October 28, 2011 at 09:12 PM
Yes, Tina, I've been following Dennis's posts and I've heard the same background info from a few others who seem to be knowledgeable about the money trail. Maybe we should find some hungry young journalist who is looking to 'bust open' this story. Anyone know anyone?
Tina McMillan October 29, 2011 at 02:57 AM
Kai I think that is a wonderful idea. What do you think about Paul Mamalakis? He has printed articles about controversial issues before. He writes for the Advance. Does anyone else know someone who would be willing to dig into this?
Edwin Drake October 29, 2011 at 08:13 AM
Suggestion: For those of you who meet with Council or Staff, have a timeline ready, so you can ask sequential questions that cover the process from start to finish and cover all the council and staff actions. It'll keep things grounded and offer a logical path to follow in questioning them. I'd start with the emergency bond issuance, that was crammed through in 48 or 72 hours; why? Likewise, I'm pretty sure that the City Council meeting approving the New City Hall was billed on the agenda as just a consideration of the concept. In any case, hold their feet to the fire. Dennis Cooper has done great work. And Tina, I've read your writing; you''re as qualified as anyone to investigate this and write it up.
Edwin Drake October 29, 2011 at 08:18 AM
re Bullying: I grew up with sticks and stones ... My take right now is that honesty and openness are the most needed traits in a candidate right now. Here in Marin A LOT of people hear honesty as bullying or intimidation. I think it's time for many of us to grow thicker skins. Future development in Novato is going to be cantankerous, and we all need to learn to be honest and respectful. There's nothing wrong with saying an idea's bad -- we learn from failure. Thanks for reading.
Leslie Schwarze November 01, 2011 at 11:25 PM
T. Allen--I think 12 years on the school board gives me a good background for the fiscal crisis we are facing. I have owned two businesses, one current and one prior. As to the single issue label you give me, my single issue is Novato. When it comes to bullying in schools what you don't seem to understand is that it takes many different components to handle the complexities of why some are picked on and not others. The circus like environment that occurred a decade ago was from extremists on both sides of the argument dominating what needed to be handled locally by the community. The same strategies are being applied now with the housing element and rezoning. I didn't like it then and I don't like it now.
Leslie Schwarze November 01, 2011 at 11:56 PM
By the way, in regards to bullying building character, I have never said that it builds character. It is a serious matter for anyone who has ever been bullied. As I said last week, do your homework.
Tina McMillan November 02, 2011 at 02:12 AM
Edwin Thanks for the encouragement. I am struggling to understand the history behind this problem. The person that has all the needed facts is Paul Mamalakis. He remembers dates, places, people, initiatives and referendums. I have been trying to find his columns from 2004 when Measure D was passed and more recently concerning the decision to build versus buy. I found the text of measure D on the city site but not the history behind it. I believe Measure D was an attempt by the citizens of Novato to stop the city council from making decisions about building, buying or leasing city offices without first putting it to a vote. The council's end run around Measure D has been funding the general fund through the redevelopment district in order to have cash to build the city civic center. This does not address the heart of what measure D stood for which was allowing the public to have input in a project of this size and scope. This was the prior "Taj Mahal" reference to downtown offices. The council must allow voters to decide what to do next; we could: 1. Build a 17 million dollar city office complex in old town 2. Purchase city offices for 6 million or less and use the remaining funds to build a parking garage, rehab the community house and hire two new police officers 3. Save some of the money for a rainy day and simply purchase a class B office building in which to house city workers

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