Developer Looks to Re-Zone 'San Marin Business Park' for Residential Use

Campus Management is requesting a General Plan Amendment to re-zone 46 acres of land near Firemans Fund from business to residential, including medium and high-density family residential.

Partridge Knolls II residents have been given notice that a developer who owns nearby property has applied to the city of Novato to have 46 acres re-zoned for medium and high-density residential homes.

Campus Management has submitted an application to the city requesting a General Plan Amendment for the property that is located on the west side of Redwood Boulevard between Wood Hollow Drive and Black John Road, north of Firemans Fund and below the Buck Institute. 

The six parcels owned by the developer are commonly referred to as the “San Marin Business Park.” The property is currently zoned Business & Professional Office (BPO) and Light Industrial/Office (LIO).

According to the notice, the proposal would designate 16 acres of land as Medium Density Multiple Family Residential with a density of 10-20 dwelling units per acre.

Nearly nine acres would be assigned High Density Multiple Family Residential with a density range of 20-30 units per acre.

A remaining 21 acres would be assigned a “conservation” designation with a density range of one unit per 10-60 acres.

“The city requires the applicant to conduct a neighborhood meeting to provide an opportunity for nearby residents to learn about the given project and provide early feedback,” said Stephen Marshall, a city senior planner, in an email.

Marshall also stressed that this application is separate from the four-acre portion of Campus Management’s property near Black John Road that has been identified as a potential affordable housing site for 80 units on the city’s housing element plan submitted to the state and still pending certification.

The amendment to the General Plan is a request being made by the developer on the entire acreage but there is no specific residential project proposed at this time, said Marshall.

“Basically, Campus Management wants to position its properties so they can be developed with residential uses in the future, with the specifics (building location, height, parking, etc.) of a residential development project(s) coming at a later time,” Marshall added.

City officials insist that while the Housing Element Plan and the re-zone application deal with some of the same property, the proposals are distinct from one another.

“These are two separate actions,” said the city’s planning manager, Elizabeth Dunn.

A meeting for neighboring homeowners to hear details about the proposed amendment is being held on Thursday, March 21 at Novato City Hall from 7:30 – 8:30 p.m.

Calls to Campus Management for comment were not returned.

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Sylvia Barry March 22, 2013 at 02:22 PM
This should really be a bio-technology corridor - hope City of Novato Business Development goes out and recruit more businesses in Science and Technology field for this area; complementing Buck Institute, Bio Marin and a couple of our small pharmaceutical firms. Novato needs jobs and revenue. Keep the current zoning, protect the very limited commercial/Professional/Business space we have left. Let's work hard to attract them to Novato.
Ventress Dugan March 22, 2013 at 02:46 PM
If you want to see 30 units per acre, Warner Creek is an example. Warner Creek used an East bay Developer and was built by East Bay workers, who commuted here!! Has to be the ugliest building in Novato!!!
Sylvia Barry March 22, 2013 at 02:55 PM
Please refresh my memory about my comment on housing on Novato Blvd behind San Marin school? A few years back? I will have to see what I think then compare to what I think now several years later. I do believe we need more high tech jobs in Novato and there is limited space for that purpose. This is already zoned for that purpose, so it's not like I am trying to get a residential area rezoned to commercial space. I hope we have jobs to attract young scientists, professionals to our area. I am for dormitory types of housing within the campus ground, such as the 30+ units Buck is building so their young scientists can work and live there. I see my kids and my friends' kids moving out of the area because this is just no meaningful jobs for them, which is a real shame. We went for lunch the other day, and I was pleased to see some young professional folks among many older ones, a rare sight! Keeping the area and attracting suitable businesses does not necessary mean more traffic than the proposed housing might bring. I think everything should be carefully planned.
Tina McMillan March 22, 2013 at 04:13 PM
Thank you Syliva! So much of our recent development has created extremely low wage jobs and the associated need for more low income housing. Using the remaining commercial space to encourage Science and Technology Industry companies to move to Novato would be amazing. We also have at various times supported Computer Software Industry companies including Game Design like Toys for Bob and 2K Games. IVC has a wonderful multimedia studies program that includes training in 3D Max by Autodesk. This software allows video and game developers to create three dimensional imagery. Novato could fill the need created when Grady Ranch was switched to housing. These industries have such potential for creating well paid jobs here in Novato.
Emily March 22, 2013 at 04:20 PM
With all due respect Tina, you are saying above the parcel is being moved closer to the street but nowhere in the response from the state to the city does the state ask the city to do this. I am thinking one of the housing groups suggested to the Staff to have it moved and you are repeating that suggestion acting as if it is fact. The state did not suggest the Black JOhn parcel be moved, it wanted clarification on how the parcel will be developed and subdivided. (ci. 12/20/12 letter to M Frank) Also most streets have a gas pipeline near it currently, and there are ways that the state, PG&E and the city can mitigate existing things like the pipeline. With respect to the EIR, that is a mandatory part of the housing element. It is not done purely to satisfy the justification for the lower density, it is for impacts across the board including sound, light, soil, aesthetics, etc. There actually isn't a "box" for the EIR people to check to justify how many people or units are allowed to be built. I think its fine to state an opinion that you have, but don't act like things are changing and you have the inside scoop on what will occour.
D Rex March 22, 2013 at 04:32 PM
Build, Build, Build in Northern Novato. They have the space, so lets expand.....despite statements from the NIMBYs like Tina.....
Tina McMillan March 22, 2013 at 05:13 PM
Emily You are correct. I don't know for certain that the city will use that option as part of the new draft element. It came up as part of a discussion aimed at explaining how the element is being improved to meet HCD's requests. It was not my suggestion. In the end the city planners may decide to do something all together different. We will know more in April. With respect to the EIR, I was told that it is necessary because we did not use the 30 unit per acre base density that reflects our Metropolitan status. The law says if you use a lower base you must prove there are no impediments to development. I don't believe Ross was asked to do an EIR of Marin Art and Garden Center or Branson School when they zoned those properties for affordable housing. We asked for a 20-20 unit per acre base for multifamily housing. That is 10 units lower than our designated base. HCD is suggesting a higher density but fewer houses on each site. We offered 100% affordable they want 20%. I appreciate your asking me to clarify my comments as opinion. I mainly use the website but when I have specific questions I go directly to city staff. I have been impressed by the work Novato city planners are doing to get approval for the current housing element. My support is for the lower density and the lower percentage of AH. I support 20-23 units per acre on each parcel with 20% AH. I also believe individual homeowners should get financial concessions for creating second units.
Violet March 22, 2013 at 05:40 PM
New One Bay Area 2013 Draft posted today. Comments close May 16... http://onebayarea.org/pdf/Draft_Plan_Bay_Area_3-22-13.pdf
Roger March 22, 2013 at 05:49 PM
About 25 residents turned out for the meeting. The developer said he hasn't gotten any interests of businesses wanting offices built on his land in 15 years. He can make money building housing, he feels. The developer admitted that the critical factor will be the EIR's conclusion on whether the proposed multiple northern projects (his two projects, SMART station, condos/retail in Fireman's Fund east parking lot, Buck housing & AccountMates office) will bring the Redwood & San Marin intersection to the breaking point. Since he is paying the EIR consultant, I bet he gets the OK.
Eleanor Sluis March 22, 2013 at 11:09 PM
Novato’s next step is a joint meeting with City Council and the Planning Commission on April1, 2013 at City Hall, according to Marin IJ’s Legal Notice. This meeting will consider the revisions to the Draft Housing Element, which should be on line on Friday after closing, for review by the public. http://www.mypublicnotices.com/marinij/PublicNotice.asp?Page=SearchResults http://www.cityof Novato.org/index.aspx?page=1410. Contact Hans Grunt Senior Planner at 415-899-8940 Email: hgrunt@novato.org It is an important document to review to make comments about keeping the recommendations of the ad hoc committee about the sites and densities. Recommended are sites and densities of 20 units per acre integrated within the community, which is a compromise between residents who want 0-5 units per acre and outsiders who want 30-40 units per acre with 4-5 story-segregated apartments. Please support the city council‘s original sites, which fit Novato’s general plan. Thank you.
Tina McMillan March 23, 2013 at 02:54 AM
Emily: It looks like the new draft did move the 4 acre site adjacent to the road to diminish any impediments. I haven't finished rereading the draft yet but it also looks like city planners have created a range of 20 to 23 units per acre with 20% AH and density bonuses for affordable and senior housing. If this draft element is approved it represents a compromise between the community and affordable housing advocates like MCF and SUNN. I noticed a section on second units that might give residents some of the same advantages as developers. http://www.cityofnovato.org/Index.aspx?page=1410 04-01-13 Revised City of Novato Draft Housing Element 2007-2014 "Site # 3: Redwood Boulevard, APN 125‐202‐18. This vacant site is a 39.92 acre parcel,approximately 900 feet north of the intersection of Wood Hollow Drive and Redwood Boulevard and a proposed rail station.....At 30 units per acre, the same four acre portion of the site would yield 120 units for senior housing. Note: To provide for its development independent of the balance of the property, the designated four acres of the site to be amended/assigned the Affordable Housing Overlay has been located adjacent to Redwood Boulevard just north of the site’s southern access in a relatively flat area largely void of trees and establishing drainage areas." map figure 9 site #3 page 81
Sylvia Barry March 23, 2013 at 03:43 AM
I was sorry I could not be there last night; I would have loved to learn what PK II neighbors, the developer and City are thinking The traffic issue is more than coming from Redwood north of San Marin - They (city/developer) also need to consider the traffic from San Marin to 101, the future Redwood corridor (South of San Marin) traffic, Commons at Mt. Burdell project (which supposedly is now smaller than the original project due to the economy downturn). When we were talking about just Commons at Mt. Burdell, there was a lot of concern about the on and off ramp of 101 and where the money would come from. Did not seem to me anybody has a solution (other than American Asse thinks the rail will help a lot)
Roger March 23, 2013 at 04:28 PM
Tina, the Housing Element is out and the City didn't follow the State's recommendation. On the 4 acre Black John site in the Element, the City wants 100% of the 92 units (up from 80) to be Affordable. Sad for the Partridge Knolls II neighbors who supported the State's reasoning that social integration is better than isolating the poor in a remote spot all alone.
Concerned Citizen March 23, 2013 at 04:46 PM
Roger the increase is because HCD demanded we use 23 instead of 20 u/a. The 4 acre site is named at 100% because the developer did not want to use inclusionary AH within their proposal thus forcing the segregation method. There is nothing that can be done to force a developer to use "social integration". The entire AH premise is not community but developer driven. But don't get me started on that. There is some really good news on HCD's expectation but lets wait and see what happens.
Tina McMillan March 23, 2013 at 09:36 PM
Actually, HCD want's the site to be at 20% affordable and if I read correctly the city planners changed it and then moved it closer to the road to eliminate any impediments. In HCD's letter to the city they wanted all the sites changed from 100% affordable to 20% affordable which is why we went from 20-20 units per acre up to 20-23 units per acre. I still haven't read the whole thing but I think the city planners are doing their very best to respect the compromises made as part of the efforts of the Ad Hoc working group. What is confusing to me is why the owner insists on turning the entire site into housing rather than keeping most of it for commercial use. While he says there are no takers I suspect it is more complicated than that. I also believe he would still be required to mix in a 20% affordable housing percentage with each area turned into residential housing or pay in lieu fees to the city. Does anyone know if the city is enforcing the codes that say market rate developments must include percentages of affordable housing? Our new number is 413 units for the next cycle.
Tired March 24, 2013 at 03:11 PM
Actually our schools are facing closure and restructuring because of declining enrollment which is forecasted to continue over next ten years. Probably in large part due to lack of "starter home" opportunities for young families. That's why Hill closed a couple of years ago.
Tired March 24, 2013 at 03:14 PM
Tina, thanks for dredging up the code. sounds like it would be a negligible number of affordable units or more likely he would just pay the fee and build all market rate. Either way no density bonus would apply. This area is much better suited for a mix of homes, recreational uses and business. Hope the City realizes that too.
Tired March 24, 2013 at 03:21 PM
Really? I think Warner Creek is very attractive. Really brings the whole neighborhood up with the beautiful landscaping, terrace, creek bed etc. are you looking at a different place? There are a lot of run down neighborhoods in Novato, but this new well is beautifully designed.
Tina McMillan March 24, 2013 at 05:41 PM
Tired Our schools are not facing closure due to attrition linked to a lack of low income housing. The families we lose to private and charter are looking for different options. We have a significant proportion of low income families as a result of having developed a lot of low income housing in prior planning periods and having the most competitive market rate housing in Marin county. Since our property taxes are insufficient increasing the number of children by developing more market rate homes does not necessarily mean we stop dealing with a structural deficit. The funding formula for schools is complicated. At one time Lynwood was receiving more than five times the funding of Pleasant Valley. Even building 500 market rate homes is not enough to change our funding mechanism that is how far behind our property taxes are compared to the costs associated with running a school district. If we were to get creative and add more choices, particularly at the elementary school level, we might retain more people in the district. We also need to get a new parcel tax funded at about double the amount of the current one which expires in 2015. Right now we pay $251 per parcel but it is no where near enough to cover our structural debt. Instead we are increasing K-3 class size, cutting services and yes, considering yet again, more school closures. Hill didn't close because there were too few students, it closed because there wasn't enough money.
Tina McMillan March 24, 2013 at 05:46 PM
Tired The code says we must include affordable housing with new market rate housing. It is the city's choice not the developers. Any affordable housing would be entitled to a density bonus. Senior housing would get the highest bonus because there is the greatest need. This area is not appropriate for residential only. It is zoned commercial/light industrial and we lack property in our General Plan with this kind of zoning. Compared to Petaluma and San Rafael who have 11 and 15% land zoned commercial we only have 5%. If we turn more land into residential housing then we need to add somewhere else in the mix. The Redwood corridor was suppose to be planned to achieve growth in local businesses including those that provide jobs with a realistic income and benefits. If all we build is housing along with more low paid retail we will have an ongoing structural deficit in both our city and our schools.
Rick Fraites March 24, 2013 at 05:52 PM
The property in question should not be re-zoned. End of discussion.
Tina McMillan March 24, 2013 at 05:58 PM
Concerned Citizen I think the city can insist on a 20% inclusionary for each site. I thought the in lieu fees were at the city's discretion. If we applied the laws we have on the books it would spread moderate and lower income housing among new market rate homes. They could be a mix of Below Market Rate and Rentals. We only have 413 units in the next cycle for our RHNA. Once the element is approved for the current cycle we are only obligated to zone not build. Any units not built will not be carried over to the next cycle. This gives us a chance to do some real planning especially with the Redwood Corridor. What we also need is a law that says for every rental complex with more than 20 units there must be an onsite manager enforcing the rental regulations. That would insure the safety of the residents and the community.
Baxter March 25, 2013 at 04:21 AM
Regarding Site #3 at Black John Rd/Redwood Blvd, some comments above are stating that the new site location on the property has been moved closer to the street (Redwood Blvd.) and "further away from the main gas transmission line." The new location is just as close to the main gas line if not closer. It will be interesting to see if the City plans on complying with the Pipeline safety agencies by using best management practices. Greater set backs from the pipeline easement should be mandatory for this site. The alternate site (Wood Hollow/Redwood Blvd.) is now back on the list for AH. It will be surprising if this site is chosen by the City as an alternate due to the same main gas line running right through the middle of this smaller sloped site. I believe the set backs and buffers necessary would not make this site feasible for any dense housing, affordable or not. By the way, there are two main gas transmission lines that run through the easement on the Campus Management parcels. One, or both, have had at least two leaks this past year with pipe replacement at some segments. Both main gas pipes are old and may need to be replaced. Pursuant to PG&E engineers, these parcels are "high consequence" meaning they are more of a safety risk due to their location. When the gas main was installed almost 50 yeats ago, the gas regulators never expected housing to sprawl that far out. Although the pipes are being monitored, there is "no guarantee that more leaks will not occur".
Tina McMillan March 25, 2013 at 05:32 AM
Baxter Do you have a link to the map that shows both lines? I only saw the one on the first draft. Moving the parcel closer to the street was a response to possible impediments because there is no street access from the original location. Is PGE scheduled to replace the pipes in this area? It sounds like any development, even commercial would still present a substantial risk if the pipes are leaking.
Baxter March 25, 2013 at 06:38 PM
On 10/25/11, Joe Horak of PG&E stated in writing to me "There are two PG&E natural gas transmission pipelines near Redwood Boulevard and San Marin Drive, Lines 21F and 21G. Both of these pipelines are in a casing pipe where they cross under Redwood Boulevard to the south of Atherton Avenue. Portions of both pipelines in this area are installed in easements on private property. [Campus Management's parcels] As part of PG&E's filed Pipeline Safety Enhancement Plan (PSEP) on August 26, 2011, several sections of Lines 21F and 21G are planned for hydrostatic pressure testing or replacement. Sections of Line 21F south of Atherton Avenue are planned for hydrostatic testing in 2012. PG&E is scheduled to replace approximately one mile of Line 21F to the south of Atherton Ave. in 2013. PSEP also includes a planned hydrostatic pressure test for a section of Line 21F about a mile to the north of Atherton Avenue in 2012.The PSEP is subject to approval by the CPUC. PG&E will share the results of these tests with the City of Novato and the media following their completion. PG&E also files regular reports with the CPUC. PG&E cannot anticipate what repairs or pipeline replacement may be needed, if any, following these tests. I have requested in writing to the City & Mr. Hooper to communicate any results to me & adjacent property owners of any such tests results prior to the April 1st Public Meeting. Per PG&E test results do not guarantee against furture gas pipeline leaks.
Roger March 26, 2013 at 12:23 AM
Tina, last week at the PKII meeting with the developer Hooper, he said that in his 40 acres that he is seeking rezoning on that 20% of the 375 units would be AH. When you take that group and add it to his 92 AH units in his separate 4 acres in the Housing Elemeny near Black John Road & Redwood, we arrive at 36% AH for Hooper's full 44 acres. That seems beyond fair share for PKII.
Eleanor Sluis March 26, 2013 at 01:54 AM
There is a need to study the economic consequences for the residents and the City of Novato and to look at the other multi-layered issues in building commercial, high tech buildings. The environmental consequences are also multi-layered issues with health, transportation, watersheds, and land uses. The social consequences with its multi-layered issues concerning fair housing and affordable housing is important as it sounds like the state does not want to see segregated new housing of 100% , but 20% inclusionary as a better solution for low-income. Furthermore, the state wants more units built for families, not just seniors. For example, 100% of affordable housing for low income with 90 units (with rounding out the numbers) means a loss of tax revenue of $ 335.000 per year to the county and $ 25,200 per year to Novato. The developer receives write offs of $ 3,600,000 in ten years and $ 108,000,000 in thirty years. This scenario assumes that market rate would be about $ 400,000 per unit. A comprehensive economical analysis is needed by the city to give to the state.
Dave Robertson March 26, 2013 at 08:24 AM
Someone said earlier that this would be more reasonable closer to 5 units per acre. That seems to be a problem in Novato in general. How about 3-4 units per acre? Do we want this town to be San Francisco suburban - or do we want it to be a high density slum? When I moved here a dozen years ago there was none of this. I certainly would not have moved here if this was the case back then. Now it seems that people want Novato to turn into a high density "city" like Daly City in the South Bay - and making places like Oakland look seriously suburban in comparison. Petaluma (some really nice homes over there) and Sonoma (also nice, more downscale) are both looking pretty attractive these days. And who is going to live in these homes? What are they going to do? Or is this - build first, ask later? It sounds like the City Council needs to find some backbone on this one and cut it off before it even gets even worse.
Dave Robertson March 26, 2013 at 08:48 AM
Biotechnology? I don't think so. I came to the Bay Area in the early areas to work in that industry and it was South Bay/Peninsula only. You are not going to attract younger people with doctorates to live in dormitories - or even consider living in high density housing. There is way too much competition from the major universities and major biotech companies. Back then it was the draw of Silicon Valley - and it still is. But biotechnology is not booming and Novato is unlikely to attract much of it. Jobs and revenue? Well, the problem is that Novato has no identity. It is a mixed bag of everything and anything in the midst of a commuter corridor to San Francisco. That's about it. Why can't we just stop building all this "junk" and be content for what we are? We are not going to be a "business center" like the South Bay - ever. Nothing is wrong with that. It will never happen.
Sylvia Barry March 26, 2013 at 01:18 PM
Never say never, Dave. I don't think anybody envisioned Buck Center years ago, and here it is. How about BioMarin and a couple smaller pharmaceutical companies that are in Bel Marin Keys now? Silicon Valley wasn't Silicon Valley either, but there they are. Young scientists or computer wiz might just want to come here due to lifestyle. We did – I was in IT project management before switching to real estate so there is one parent home while my husband commutes to the city. Novato does not have the space to grow, so yes, I agree and everybody relax, it is never going to be a big hub. But it does not preclude us from being a small center if planned correctly. If the neighborhood and the city as a whole chose not to do so, yes, but otherwise, don't shut it down. Agreed with mixed bag - instead of planning one parcel at a time, a master plan would serve us well. I might have said dormitory style too lightly; basically what Buck proposed is subsidized housing for their employees. I really don't know what they are building, but i am sure they have done their research and feel it's suitable benefit and incentive for their employees. We lived in university provided housing when I was growing up and that's a big benefit for a professor. Novato is aging and providing resources, revenue, transportation and meaningful jobs for younger generation is vital for the town's future; bio-tech or otherwise.


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