Land-use zoning will be the topic Monday night at the Novato Planning Commission — specifically for five sites in the city designated as possible sites for housing developments.
Members of the city planning staff are to unroll the draft housing element for the city's general plan update, a document that has to be filed every seven years and approved by the state government. Dry as that chat sounds, individuals and groups fighting against any sort of mandated housing quotas will be riveted and full of questions.
Pam Drew of the Novato Community Alliance, one of the groups battling against force-fed housing mandates, has described the city's draft housing element as "largely a reasonable document in an unreasonable climate of strict regulation of the California housing supply by state housing laws and of even tighter enforcement by regional agencies like the Association of Bay Area Governments."
City planners have noted repeatedly that failure to pass housing-element review by the state's Housing and Community Development Department would invite lawsuits from public-interest groups. Tina McMillan, a member of the Novato Community Alliance, said there are obstacles to passing a housing element with fewer than 30 units per acre of multifamily housing.
"We will be under scrutiny by HCD as well as agencies such as Public Advocates and Marin Fair Housing," she said. "It is up to us to prove that we have satisfied every law and every objective throughout this document. It would be helpful if the city could tell us what nonprofit groups were involved in the process of creating the housing element and which ones have threatened litigation as a means of controlling density or any other objectives."
The San Marin Compatible Housing Coalition circulated an email to its members saying, "It is important that city officials know that we are still out here, watching the proceedings, monitoring progress and questioning along the way. This is a long, drawn-out process, but we need to stick with it to ensure that they are taking our concerns to heart."
McMillan, who has been watching the affordable housing debate closely for several years, said she hopes the city and special districts would consider waiving fees associated with second units so that large housing complexes won't be as necessary to meet quotas.
"Helping individual Novato residents succeed in caring for our aging and disabled population is as important as supporting the development of affordable housing by nonprofit developers," she said. "We need to encourage the city to see the individual resident as making a valued contribution.
"For the most part the focus has been on streamlining projects created by affordable housing developers. These are large projects that do not take into consideration the needs of existing residents that want to make a personal contribution toward reducing homelessness and helping family members in need. If we can see the individual as a valued partner then perhaps we can work together toward these goals."
In July 2011, the Novato City Council selected five sites to meet the city’s remaining regional housing need for low- and very-low income households for the 2007-2014 cycle. They are:
- 1787 Grant Ave. (aka Bridgepoint Academy preschool), 2.14 acres, 36 units/53 senior units)
- Landing Court (aka RV storage lot), 2.11 acres, 30/45 units
- North Redwood Boulevard (aka Wood Hollow pasture), 39.92 acres, 80/120 units
- 7506 Redwood Boulevard (aka next to Trader Joe's), 1.76 acres, 35-53 units
- 1905 Novato Boulevard (aka Senior Access), 1.06 acres (21/30 units.
Although nothing will be built there unless the property owners agree to a project, the city plans to rezone the sites to make them feasible for affordable housing and adopt amendments to set a minimum density of 20 dwelling units per acre, the city said. After identifying a need for senior-only units as well, the city plans to establish a maximum density of 30 units per acre for senior housing.
At Monday's meeting, the city staff plans to go over subtopics such as best management practices for multi-family rental housing, multi-family housing design criteria, incentives for the creation of accessory dwellings and land-use provisions for emergency shelters for the homeless.
The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. at Novato City Hall. Note that the parking lot between City Hall and Machin Avenue is no longer available because of construction of the new city administrative offices. Attendees are urged to arrive early and be willing to walk a block or two.