A defiant Novato City Council pushed back against regional and state housing authorities Thursday and approved a list of potential housing sites for its general plan that might not pass muster.
After declaring that 20 units per acre would be as dense as it would allow — even if the state Housing and Community Development Department says that’s not enough — the Novato City Council came up with five sites that would provide 202 units of affordable housing if land owners and developers decided to partake in deals.
When the meeting concluded at 11:15 p.m., there was a smattering of clapping — much different than the occasional heckling that has taken place over the past year during intense meetings about high-density complexes for low-income residents. What was expected by some to be a dramatic crescendo of a summit was instead a mellow and routine affair with moderate opposition.
The sites chosen were:
— Undeveloped space on the eastern slope of Mount Burdell below the Buck Institute for Aging Research, Redwood Boulevard at Black John Road (80 units)
— Bridge Point Academy preschool, 1787 Grant Ave (36 units)
— Lifelong Medical Care, 1905 Novato Boulevard (21 units)
— RV storage park, Landing Court (30 units)
— Undeveloped space at 7506 North Redwood Boulevard, a parcel off Olive Avenue near the railroad tracks and just east of Trader Joe's (35 units)
The total is 202 units, or two over the minimum required by the Association of Bay Area Governments.
The 39.9-acre parcel off North Redwood Boulevard at Black John Road was a recent addition to the possibilties. Known as the Campus Property, its owner had told council members and city staff that he was open to development of his property. The potential of 80 units (four acres with 20 units per acre) accounts for 40 percent of the city's needs for the 2007-2014 housing element.
City staff members reiterated that nothing will happen to those chosen sites unless the property owners are willing. Novato has eminent domain privileges but has never used them during its 51-year history of incorporation.
Those properties on the short list of possible sites but not receiving support from the council were:
— Atherton Ranch, 7533 and 7537 North Redwood Boulevard between Pinheiro Circle and Ranch Drive
— 102 Hill Road, behind Journey Ford dealership on Redwood Boulevard
— 1901 Novato Boulevard, undeveloped parcel at McClay Road
— 7530 North Redwood Boulevard, just north of Trader Joe’s
— Buck Institute housing off Buck Center Drive
— Wood Hollow Drive at North Redwood Boulevard
— Seventh-Day Adventist Church, San Marin Drive at Simmons Lane
— Quest Church, South Novato Boulevard at Arthur Street
Pastors at two churches originally on the list of properties to be rezoned both spoke Thursday and thanked city staff for not recommending their sites after all.
“It appears you’re taking us off the list, and if that’s the case, thank you so much,” said Rev. Darrell Chilson of the Novato Seventh-Day Adventist Church on San Marin Drive. He went on to thank the residents of the adjacent Partridge Knolls neighborhood who stood up at past housing meetings and explained why it was a bad idea to zone the church property for high-density housing.
Pastor Joe Everly of The Quest church received similar support from people who live in the Presidents neighborhood near his sanctuary at the corner of South Novato Boulevard and Arthur Street, and he thanked them for their support.
There were 77 requests by the public for speaking for two minutes each in front of the council, but most who filled out cards had left the council chambers, likely because they were satisfied that the parcel they were opposed to was taken off the list.
The total number of units approved by the City Council should be an acceptable minimum to the Association of Bay Area Governments and the state housing department, according to city staff, but the density of 20 per acre is a violation of the metropolitan demographic designation to which Novato is assigned. Petaluma’s default housing density is 20 units because it is designated as suburban rather than metropolitan.
So Novato declaring 20 instead of 30 was sort of a “make me!” dare to the state.
“I know that may be rejected, and I know there are many communities (that turn in housing elements) that are rejected with comments, and then you address those comments,” Councilwoman Carole Dillon-Knutson said. “… There’s nothing wrong with being rejected with comments from HCD.”
Mayor Madeline Kellner added, “There have been appeals for smaller units per acre, and I know some jurisdictions have gotten lower allocations.”
Veronica Nebb, assistant city attorney, made note that the council decisions made Thursday were not necessarily etched-in-stone verdicts but rather direction to city staff to lay out final options at those sites. The final housing element document is not expected to be presented as a draft until January.
The Rev. Pamela Griffith Pond, a co-founder of Stand Up for Neighborly Novato, said her group — which favors affordable housing — was not pleased with the final list.
“These sites are not viable and aren’t going to result in the reasonably priced housing for those who desperately need it,” she said. “ … I urge you to select sites that would lay the groundwork for actually building the housing Novato desperately needs.”
The meeting culminated 13 months of intense debate in Novato, engaging hundreds of people who had little or no experience participating in local government. Council members urged people to stay involved because, as Eklund said, they made a difference in the city’s decisions.
All five members of the council gave special thanks to the ad hoc working group set up by City Manager Michael Frank, 21 volunteers who spent every Wednesday night for nine months plus countless hours of research and discussion devoted to the affordable housing issue. Although only two of the five sites chosen by the council had been recommended by the ad hoc working group (Landing Court and Bridge Point Academy), several members of group commended the council for its final recommendations.
“I’m tremendously surprised by your delightful creativity,” said group member Pam Drew.