Wednesday's Novato Design Review Commission meeting was at a standstill over changes to the design of a building to replace the former until one of the commissioners abruptly resigned over the issue.
Commissioner Beth Radovanovich, a board member for more than eight years, said she was "not going to be railroaded" into approval of the project by the developer’s Dec. 15 escrow deadline.
Until that point, the commission was split on the issue with two members in favor of the design and two requesting more changes plus a developer asking for "design certainty" to purchase the building by the deadline.
During public comments, nearly every speaker — mostly members of the Novato business community — asked the commission to approve the design, citing the need for jobs and economic benefits. The proposal is for demolishing the 50-year-old Mills Restaurant building (the restaurant closed this week) and construct a three-building retail complex between the and the on the corner of De Long Avenue and Redwood Boulevard. Tenants might include a coffee shop, some sort of eatery and a service-oriented retail store, the architect said.
After about 90 minutes of presentation and review, the committee appeared to be at an impasse with Radovanovich and Patrick MacLeamy asking for additional changes. Radovanovich’s main concern was the exterior of the building that would face McDonald’s and be in plain view of the public.
It appeared to be a deal-breaker until the applicant, Matt Holmes of Novato Realty Partners, said there were preliminary plans to put public art on a large bare exterior portion of the building.
Radovanovich said that it was a step in the right direction, but she didn’t think that the design was far along enough to approve without changes.
She asked the city staff how many votes would be needed if only three commissioners were present. When the answer came back as two, she stood up and said “I resign effective immediately” and left the room.
As Radovanovich spoke in the hallway with Novato City Council member Pat Eklund, the remaining commissioners voted to approve the plan as presented in a 2-1 vote with Commissioners Tom Telfer and Xiaofen Luo approving and MacLeamy dissenting.
Outside the meeting chamber, Radovanovich said, “I felt that the decision I was going to make was going to negatively impact the developer but to approve it wasn’t in the best interest of the community. I just didn’t want to be railroaded.”
“The project had come a long way, and I really appreciated the difference. But I didn’t feel I could compromise — not on something that is this visible."
Eklund spoke to Radovanovich, an eight-year member of the commission, about her decision to resign from the board. When asked later if she would return, Radovanovich said, “I need to do some real hard soul searching.”
City planner Steve Marshall said he was unsure as to the procedure to accept the resignation made during the meeting. “It’s a first. We’ll have to go back and talk about it,” he said.
“She’s an outstanding member of design review,” Eklund said. “I’m going to do everything I can to convince her to remain. ... Design review is an important part of the decision-making process. We should not compromise design because of a developer’s artificial deadline."
This was the second full pass of the design before the commission. The previous design, was deemed too contemporary by the commission.
The architect, Max Crome of Crome Architecture, came back with what he characterized as a traditional design, incorporating brick. The commissioners spoke favorably of the overall changes, saying it would mesh better with which Chrome also designed.
Holmes also spoke to Radovanovich outside the meeting and said her comments about the design were fair and would be taken into consideration.
“The outcome is positive, but I wish there was more consensus on the design,” he said later.