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Hanna Ranch Project Gets Go-Ahead from City Council

Majority believed the development of property south of Vintage Oaks is appropriate use for the site

Dirt bikers of Novato: Eventually you’re going to need to find a new place to ride, because the development of Hanna Ranch is going to happen.

After more than three years of inching through the city approval process, Los Angeles-based developer Urban One received approval from the Novato City Council to construct a mixed-use complex on the undeveloped property just south of Vintage Oaks — a 19.7-acre property that has been popular with off-road bikers and hikers who have ignored the posted “private property” signs.

The council voted on seven resolutions pertaining to the project Tuesday at City Hall, and each vote went 3-1-1 — Mayor Denise Athas, Jeanne MacLeamy and Eric Lucan in favor, Pat Eklund against and Madeline Kellner abstaining because of her biologist husband’s involvement with the plan’s environmental impact report.

“Obviously, we’re very happy and excited,” Urban One’s Dennis Allen said. “We think it’s a great project and we were happy that the (city) staff and council supported it. We believe there are a lot of people in Novato who support it, too, people who don’t always get out to meetings like this. We want to build something the community can be proud of.”

The project calls for more than 11 of the 19 acres — on the northeast quadrant of the highways 101 and 37 interchange — to be left alone or just cleaned up. A 116-room, 70,600-square-foot hotel would be located in the property’s bowl area between three knolls and somewhat hidden from passing traffic on Highway 101. Two restaurants of 5,000 square feet each would be just north and east of the hotel. A 42,240-square-foot, two-story office/retail building would be placed on a strip of land the east side of Beverly Ehreth Ecological Preserve pond, right next to Costco. A single-story 13,571-square-foot retail building also is planned.

One piece of land — the northernmost chunk of the site, right at the end of Rowland Way — is still the subject of talks between Urban One and the city. Known as Parcel C, the three-quarter-acre property can only be developed if a purchase price is agreed upon. A second reading of the resolutions is scheduled for January, and that topic could be ironed out by then.

Aside from Parcel C, Allen said the next steps are to focus on design and bring drawings before the Novato Design Review Commission in six to 12 months.

The more forceful council support came from MacLeamy, who is determined to eliminate blight in Novato and make unimproved commercially zoned sites useful to the city and its residents. After hearing a lopsided majority of the public speakers criticize the project for its single-road access, its possible infringement on an ecological preserve, its hotel that would be bad for business at other local lodging establishments and its lack of affordable housing for the people who might work at the Hanna Ranch stores, MacLeamy made no doubt about her stance.

“What I’m hearing is a lot of doom and gloom, but I don’t agree,” she said. “ … I foresee good stewardship of the land in perpetuity. … This is very well planned and takes into account all the significant environmental attributes.”

She said the site is heavily damaged by erosion and dirt bike riders, the pond is full of debris and the panhandle area near the end of Rowland Way is “an eyesore.”

“It’s an ideal site for additional retail and it’s compatible to Vintage Oaks,” she said. “ … My main message for this land use is that its existing usefulness is nonexistent.”

Athas and Lucan supported much of what MacLeamy said, which also included a pointed remark aimed at lodging officials who criticized the proposed hotel.

“Let the marketplace do its work,” MacLeamy said. “We need more places in Novato for conferences and so forth. … Rather than being afraid of new competition, they should be combining efforts with the city, the chamber (of commerce), the (Downtown Novato Business Association) and bring in new businesses to Novato and help make land-use decisions.

Lucan, in his first full meeting as a newly elected council member, said the pros outweighed the cons on the Hanna Ranch development.

“A project like this allows the beauty of the site to be enjoyed and no longer destroyed,” he said. “If you walk the site, you would see the impacts of what’s gone on there. … I think we took our time looking at all the issues and I see more positives than negatives.”

Athas said she is ready for the property to become a vibrant commercial center and a destination stop for locals as well as travelers. She cited the expected 300 jobs created and the projected $650,000 gross revenue for the city’s general fund each year.

“You don’t just build to get money, but this happens to be very worthwhile project that will benefit Novato,” Athas said.

Eklund, who fired question after question to city staff, the assistant city attorney and the developer prior to the votes, was defiant to the end.

“I do not think it’s suitable for the site,” she said. “It’s too intense for the site, and it encroaches on very vulnerable wildlife. … Ideally this would remain as a nature preserve, and this project just too intense for the site.”

From the start, proponents of the development cited the additional choices for Novato residents to stay in town to spend their money, which leads to sales tax revenue. Also, the complex would lead to dozens of new jobs created and revamp a property that has been idle for decades.

Opponents came down hard on the developers in the designs so that people who work in the hotel, restaurants or stores would have the option of living walking distance to their jobs. The city of Novato has to meet state-mandated quotas for affordable housing options, and grassroots groups are pressuring all developers to include housing to help achieve the quotas rather than creating the need for more high-density housing complexes around the city.

In addition to housing, opponents said additional traffic in the Vintage Oaks area would pose problems, especially during the holiday season. Rowland Way is to be the sole entry and exit road for the new development except for emergency access from Highway 37.

Born & raised December 14, 2011 at 03:05 PM
Traffic will be bad on Rowland and Vintage Way intersections. Why no access Hanna Ranch from Hanna Way off 37. Seems more efficient.
Cindy December 14, 2011 at 03:35 PM
Major traffic nightmare to come and oh what a stupid decision on the part of our new council members not to include housing. Hello is anyone paying attention to what the people of Novato want, I don't think so.........and another hotel, oh that's great we can't even fill the ones we have, oh yes these are smart people. Stupid is as stupid does!!!!!
Lloyd December 14, 2011 at 04:08 PM
The larger problem that no one wants to identify is "theCity's process". The City Council cited the 3 year long delay of this process inching its way through for approval. Because of that bureaucratic inefficiency they decided it was unfair to further delay the project. Guess what, it is the City of Novato's own policies that kept this project moving at a snails pace and now that it is presented with legitimate concerns being voiced there isn't any more time for the Citizen's to have their day and expect answers to their questions. There is nothing wrong with development of commercial projects. I just wish for once the people had been given the same time consideration for their issues and a more streamlined process that allows everyone to be treated fairly. We yet again missed the boat and allowed the citizens of this town to absorb the costs related to supporting the social needs, housing and services created while letting the developer once again walk away without contributing a fair share. I was told there exists a commercial linkage fee already in Novato's code. They chose to not enforce it again. You decide if you think that is fair.
Bob December 14, 2011 at 04:12 PM
300 jobs, most of which will not pay a living wage. This means that these new employees will need some assistance in affording housing, if they have children it is an impact on our school system and school lunch programs, many of them cannot afford medical insurance and impact our medical services, because they don't make a living wage their net tax contribution (state and federal) is zero, etc. With 11 acres undeveloped, it is hard to understand why some low income housing could not be incorporated into this project. This project is closer to most services than Bay Vista, our largest subsidized housing project. The other main omission from the project is access from Highway 37. There are roadways in existence now that if brought up to code would provide smooth access to the new project, as well as the Vintage Oaks area, from the East and South and relieving the traffic pressure on Roland Blvd. The real winner in this project is Urban One, the out of town developers that pretty much got what they wanted. Thank you Pat Eklund for trying to be the voice of the people.
Trish Boorstein December 14, 2011 at 04:16 PM
Council member Pat Eklund read from the original General Plan stating that the road behind Costco was originally to be continued thru Hanna Ranch to connect to highway 37. Staff has decided that this land is no longer needed for this purpose. Eklund reminded Staff that there has been no Public Hearing on this matter. For now it will be addressed in January. It is imperative that Novato not sell this easement to the Developers Urban One. We would no longer ever be able to connect to 37 in the future if we do. The Public must inform Staff and Council of their views.
Pam Drew December 14, 2011 at 04:24 PM
The development ignores the increase in car trips to Novato. The majority has played directly into the hands of MTC and its Sustainable Community Strategy which will now force Novato to increase her transit-oriented housing developments. L.A.'s Urban Ore got their project, no strings attached. Jeanne MacLeamy got more large buildings. The citizens largely got the residuals, unfelt for 5-10 years, which they are unlikely to even connect to this decision. Growth isn't the unmixed blessing it used to be but Novato doesn't know it yet. The Chamber will keep saying that they are the money makers for city coffers and Novatoans may keep believing it even while the poorer 80% will certainly be shelling out more tax money for mitigations while the investor class enjoys their wider profit margins.
Baxter December 14, 2011 at 05:20 PM
"We all know the economy is not going to improve in the near future" (Those were MacLeamy's exact words a few weeks ago at a City Council meeting)! Hopefully, the future new hotel with its inevitable vacancies can rent out discounted rooms to low-income families who choose to live and work in Novato.
John Wyek December 14, 2011 at 05:25 PM
MacLeamy said "Let the marketplace do its work". Why doesn't that also apply to housing? Why is Novato being required to add affordable housing, rather than letting this be market-driven? If there is a high demand for low income housing, then developers will want to build it (without special considerations). And if we ARE forced to add housing, then why not include it in this project?
Tina McMillan December 14, 2011 at 05:59 PM
"WHY DOESN’T NOVATO REQUIRE COMMERCIAL LINKAGE FEE TO COVER AFFORDABLE HOUSING COSTS?" This is the issue that needs to make the headlines. We just spent over a year looking at sites for mandated affordable housing. The discussions have included the long term costs to the community of building homes without a tax base. Historically we have donated 100% of our RDA tax money to affordable housing created at Hamilton. That means none of the tax dollars went to schools, roads or city services. We can't keep this up. The more low cost jobs that are created by new commercial development the higher our ABAG quotas. We have to ask ourselves why the city council refuses to require a commercial linkage fee with all new development that creates low income jobs. http://ci.novato.ca.us/agendas/pdfstaffreports/120511_I3.pdf December 5, City of Novato DISCUSSION OF HOUSING POLICIES REGARDING SECOND UNITS AND COMMERCIAL LINKAGE FEES Commercial Linkage Fee http://www.livelocalmarin.org/archives/844 "The basic idea is straight-forward and smart–linkage fees ‘link’ new development with a community’s need for a range of housing choices. Jobs-housing linkage fees are levied on new commercial development and aim both to offset the impact of the new development on housing prices and to provide for new housing needs that come with the newly created jobs—often lower paying ones."
Gail Wilhelm December 14, 2011 at 06:04 PM
What is it about the phrase "environmentally superior alternative" as recommended by the EIR, that three council members don't understand? With minor tweaking that the developers didn't object to they could have produced an environmentally better project.
Douglas K December 14, 2011 at 06:55 PM
Brent writes: "After hearing a lopsided majority of the public speakers criticize the project..." Wasn't it something like 15 citizens vs. 1 Chamber-of-Commerce paid rep? Perhaps rephrasing it as "almost unanimous public comment against the project" would be more accurate? The CofC-controlled Council supermajority can apparently rule with impunity and a deaf ear to the public -- no need to coddle them in Patch.
Trish Boorstein December 14, 2011 at 07:16 PM
Tina, view the video stream of the meeting. You will see and hear Council member Jeannie McCleamy state that she believes developers do enough in contributions to the city. She feels that a Commercial Linkage fee would deter developers from coming to Novato. This has not occurred in San Rafael and Marin Co. where linkage fees are in place. BTW of all the residents that spoke against this project, some 15+, only Coy Smith(Chamber of Commerce Prez?, not sure if he is a resident of Novato) spoke for it. Not one resident from the community spoke in support of this development during the meeting. If Millworks is any indicator of a rushed and forced project upon the Council, who knows what we as a community will have to live with when Hanna R. is completed. Pat Eklund, thank you for upholding the original General Plan.
SHROYER FOR SUPERVISOR 2014 December 14, 2011 at 09:08 PM
As a result of Lucan's, MacCleamy and Athas' vote, there will be more high density low income housing mandates forced upon our current neighborhoods as Hanna Ranch was not made to take their fair share of affordable housing (The Hanna project will increase our housing element numbers --- thus neighborhoods in the future will have to absorb these housing numbers). Thank you Pat Ecklund for being the lone voice of the good people of Novato. The other council members sold us down the river for an out of town developer with a project that is questionable.
linda December 14, 2011 at 09:33 PM
Novato's apathetic majority allowed our city representatives to continue to serve developers, ABAG and HCD before its citizens. Hanna Ranch is a snapshot of things to come. Toni is right, the neighborhoods will be paying the price now. We all want a Wyndover around the corner, right?
linda December 14, 2011 at 09:59 PM
Toni has been fighting for the residents not special interest groups. She is NOT responsible for the current mind set of our city government. Do some research of your own- If you want to place blame, start researching Katie Crecelius' involmement in city and county politics. Also, check Greenbelt Alliance and Non Profit Housing.
Bob December 15, 2011 at 12:19 AM
Peak A Punch, you must have Toni mixed up with someone else as she was probably the most outspoken person against the track the City Counsel has taken. At this time it looks like the Chamber of Commerce is running City hall with SUNN a close second.
Linda December 15, 2011 at 01:58 AM
Bob , Hello, Wake up !!!!! You Say " At this time it looks like the Chamber of Commerce is running City hall "" Where the hell have you been and what are you and the others smoking ? The Chamber has been running the city for 20 years . You people need to post facts, not Garbage like the postings above
Bob December 15, 2011 at 02:45 AM
Bud, I have watched the Council bow to the Chamber for for a long time but silly me, I thought with the amount of citizens attending the council meetings and showing opposition to their practice that they would do as the people wanted. I say again, silly me.
Renee December 15, 2011 at 04:09 AM
How can anyone possibly believe this development will be a positive for Novato. it is going to add MAJOR congestion to an already overdeveloped town, that in my opinion does not add to the quality of life in Novato. The city council and, the chamber seem to always use tax revenues as the excuse for every hideous development that gets approved, yet the city is Always crying about how broke they are. In my 35 years here, the math never seems to add up. The Novato city council always seems to make the same poor decisions regardless of who is elected!
Ginny December 15, 2011 at 04:51 AM
Can anyone explain why you cannot make a right turn onto Rowland from the off ramp? That really backs up the traffic on the off ramp and sometimes even the freeway...
Trish Boorstein December 15, 2011 at 06:42 PM
When Carole Dillon Knutson retired we lost a valuable vote on the Council. In two years, Denise Athas and Pat Eklund will be running again. We need to find candidates, who like Pat and Carole listened to the people of Novato. Pat Eklund is the only Council member who is protesting the sale of the floating easement! This should be of utmost importance to all the council members. I bet if a study were done to assess the revenue brought into Novato by opening an artial to connect to 37, compared to the revenue generated by the two commercial/retail buildings proposed for this site (Parcel C), Novato would stand to gain far more revenue by continuing an artial roadway that exists behind Costco thru Hanna Ranch and connecting to 37. SAFETY, REVENUE, REDUCED TRAFFIC @ ROWLAND should be of paramount interest to our Council members. If the developers purchase this property that the Staff feels Novato doesn't need anymore, we will never be able to connect to 37 in the future. BTW, we must demand a Public Hearing for the sale of this City property so the community can voice their opinions.
Trish Boorstein December 15, 2011 at 09:29 PM
Bud Not So Bright, the decision on Parcel C has not been made. It will be discussed in January. If any residents care about the future safety of the Vintage Oaks shopping center, now is the time to organize an opposition and let people know. We have to hold Staff accountable for how they make decisions and make them transparent. Selling Public Property without informing the Public or having a Public Hearing is unconscionable.
Eleanor Sluis December 16, 2011 at 07:17 AM
The Chamber of Commerce, Marin builders, Northbay Leadership, Marin Realtors, Marin I J, bankers, and other economic interests endorse Eric Lucan, Jeanne Mc Leamy, Denise Athas, and Madeline Kellner. Therefore, no analysis for a percentage of low cost housing happens at Hanna Ranch development. The endorsers do not want it. So, a small number of units on the Hanna site is not considered. Yet, 60 units are built across from Wyndover’s 150 low cost units on Diablo. The council approves those units, which have many police calls. Mc Leamy, and council members continue to contradict themselves with their ineptness in making decisions about land use and compatible housing. They vote for the sad, out of scale, 125 units, Millworks building. The council continues to act capriciously because of their endorsements. A better plan is to favor the community over the developers. Seniors, youth, families, and schools of Novato are more important than developers’ wishes. The council forgets about the Vision 2028 plan for a quality of life, which fosters diversity, education, and low-density housing. They do not promote equality and the potential of each person in Novato. They prefer developers and those mentioned above to run the town.
Susan Stompe December 19, 2011 at 06:29 AM
Did anyone else notice that the majority Councilmembers sat through the public testamony, asked few questions and then made prewritten speeches praising the project? Pat's questions brought out a lot of pertinent information - but none of the majority took any of it into consideration. They gave away the floating easement - thereby eliminating the ability of the city to EVER link Rowland Blvd. to Highway 37. They decided for future generations that they will NEVER need that linkage. The audacity of the Council majority is mind blowing. Parcel C is the only element left to completely fulfill every single thing the developer wanted. The price of the sale is the only thing delaying the transfer. What a disappointment: no linkage fee, encroachment on county property, changing setbacks, narrow road, giving away of a public easement, prohibiting ever connecting Rowland to 37, exceeding height limits and on and on.
Lloyd December 19, 2011 at 07:34 AM
When it is all said and done the fault lies with the apathetic nature of the citizens to actively become involved. The Council can as you put it "get away with it" because too many of our citizens don't give a hoot ( i was going to say rat's ass) but decorum being considered of anything that doesn't directly have an immediate impact on them. When the cumulative effects become obvious, it will be too late, and they will be the first to blame everyone else. The saying "all evil needs to succeed is for good people to do nothing" pretty much sums up our situation. I feel sorry for our children who will inherit the results of our abdicating our responsibility to participate in the process.
Bob December 19, 2011 at 02:11 PM
Susan, I agree 100%. The Hwy 37 access already has the overpasses in place and with upgrades to the roadway, we could have minimized the congestion and improved safety and traffic flow. To allow a developer to build this project without mitigating the traffic implications should be unconscionable. But our Chamber of Commerace driven City Council are deaf to the voice of the citizens. I thank Pat Eklend for her attempt to have the peoples voice heard.
Dave Robertson January 02, 2012 at 06:13 AM
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