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Novato City Council to Discuss Downtown Parking, SMART Land

Tuesday night's meeting starts at 6 p.m. with a closed session about land that the transit rail authority would like to obtain to build stations.

The Novato City Council will hear a report Tuesday night on how parking will work out for a tentatively planned downtown office building for city employees and how it might affect commerce in the surrounding Old Town shopping district.

The council has not voted on the whether to relocate about 60 city employees from its leased space at to a new “civic center” administrative building on Machin Avenue, a few yards from and across the street from the .

The council has seen architectural drawings of a new building of 22,000 to 25,000 square feet but wanted to hear more about how parking would be handled and its relation to current parking availability in the Old Town area.

San Francisco-based Walker Parking Consultants were contracted to analyze the supply and demand near the civic center area and found that available parking is sufficient, according to a staff report. The analysis concludes that an office building without additional parking would create problems and that the city needs better management of the current parking spots.

Walker Parking concluded that there is a need for 518-540 parking spaces in the civic center area where there is an existing supply of 394 spots. The firm said it factored in parking demands of the Millworks/ complex two blocks to the east and the planned construction of a multi-use building at 999 Grant Ave. one block to the west.

Also Tuesday, the council is to have a closed-session discussion about small city-owned parcels near the land owned by Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit. SMART is starting the process of to construct stations along a passenger rail route through Novato.

City Manager Michael Frank said the city does not plan to sell “any amount of any significance” to SMART and only owns remnant right-of-way parcels needed by SMART to build a station just north Atherton Avenue, about a mile north of Old Town.

Frank said the city is hoping to work something out with SMART about the land it owns off Grant Avenue where an old train depot sits. City officials have targeted that area for more downtown parking.

The two parties are to discuss not only 695 Grant Ave. where the depot is located but also a parcel on B Street in Hamilton (between Palm Drive and Hamilton Parkway) where a South Novato SMART station is scheduled to be built and slivers of property at the site of the North Novato station near Atherton and North Redwood Boulevard.

The closed session of Tuesday’s meeting starts at 6 p.m. followed by the open session at approximately 6:30.

joan May 04, 2011 at 01:40 PM
This is still a runaway train. I thought they scraped the station at Atherton. Why do they need station land. They're starting to build stations and don't even have the money to finish the project let alone sustain it.
FINNEGAN'S MARIN May 04, 2011 at 02:46 PM
There are so many reasons NOT to build city offices downtown it is mind-boggling that the city council is continuing down this path. The city council needs to answer the following questions. Why are they prepared to spend far more to build city offices downtown instead of buying existing and less expensive office space away from downtown? Why is the council working to supplant the only city owned lot long earmarked for a parking facility? Finally, why is the city speaking out of both sides of their mouth..pushing for the theatre to open yet not including THOSE parking requirments in the study they commissioned with Walker Parking Consultants? It seems to me the city is bent on building a brand spanking new and far costly office space for 50+ employees who work Mon - Thurs from 9-5pm irregardless of the excessive costs and convienently ignoring the future parking needs downtown is sure to have.
Lloyd May 04, 2011 at 03:10 PM
We keep referring to Smart as a train when it is more like a "Euro Disney Trainette". This entire project has been a BIG LIE to the voters from day 1. Smart's shortfall of funding is based on projecting the cost of the construction way too low while grossly over-estimating the revenue to support it. There has been a veil of secrecy as to whether they had a business plan and realistic projections. It appears this is a $BILLION mistake has not been thought out and watches our dollars go down the decrepit tracks. Whether or not you are in favor of a rail system, btw I am, Smart is anything but. As for the people of Novato it appears that the Smart trainette needs to have a big middle finger flash as it goes thru but doesn't stop in our town. I find it incredible that our largest employment base being North Novato with Fireman's Fund, Brayton Law to name a few has been scraped. You would think there would be a downtown station where Novato is trying to vitalize a core center & develop a N. Redwood Corridor but no it doesn't stop there. Surely we could arrange for bus serve from Vintage Oak in Central Novato our largest retail center but it doesn't plan on stopping there either. They discuss the cost of stopping the train in so many places, called by some a station, but the Smartless folks don't seem to grasp the simple concept of a successful transit system requires riders & in order to have riders you actually have to stop and let people get on and off.
Lloyd May 04, 2011 at 03:24 PM
Perhaps the Smartless board ought to go to Disneyland and ride that train and maybe as they go from 'future land" to "never never land" they might get a clue. As for the cost of a station being $5m. Not being an engineer I am not an expert but I did a little basic math. You need two sidings for each station and being the trainete is only about 50 feet long I figure you could add 150 feet of track to each siding. Figure rail costs $500 foot to install. That means about $300K . OK we need 4 switching mechanisms lets call that $50k each, so another $200k. We need an actual platform on each side and it should be covered even though the train might not be able to run in the rain because Smartless doesn't have the money for the trestle repair but lets live dangerously and call each covered platform $150k, oh heck $200k each that is another $400K. There might be some additional computer switching etc needs but the program is the same for all stations so lets just throw in another $100k. I'm not sure what else we would need to get stations off the ground but it could surely come later. So that puts us at about $1m (not $5m) per station. Oh I forgot maybe we need to build 2200 homes within a half mile so they will allow us the honor of traveling to downtown San Rafael. The linkage of housing to this project is perhaps the most diabolical twist. Do they want a way to force State housing quotas on us or did they want to reduce greenhouse gases and get cars off the road? Makes me wonder
David L May 04, 2011 at 05:31 PM
I'm surprised that the folks at Finnegan's would object to having 60 people leaving work each weekday hungry and thirsty a half a black away from their front door. Leaving that aside, this is the CITY of Novato, and it has a downtown core that is close to a bus depot and has lots of new shops and restaurants within the space of about 3 blocks. This is where city employees should be working, so they can at least have a chance of using mass transit to get to work, and so they can patronize locally run businesses and recycle their pay back to us. They do not belong in an office park/shopping mall. Does San Francisco have its City Hall in Stonestown? Does San Rafael have its City Hall at Northgate?
Marla May 04, 2011 at 07:43 PM
The 2,200 average number of homes within walking distance of a station is recommended by MTC because people who live nearby are 10 times more likely to leave their cars at home and ride it. That average across the line includes homes that already exist, and we are very close to meeting it already with existing homes, especially in places like Santa Rosa which far exceed the average. Young fmailies these days want walkable communities located near convenient transit. Zillow has included "Walkscore" in its real estate evaluations since more walkable communities are holding their value and are in bigger demand. I agree, SMART needs to stop in Atherton, that's why it is first on the list of new stations. Most rail systems are built in phases. During this economic downturn, that is a prudent way to proceed.
Jerry May 04, 2011 at 08:48 PM
The Atherton station is not part of Phase I construction plan, but it has not been dropped. If SMART can lowered some costs and make other adjustments, the station will be first in line to be added to Phase I construction. Making land adjustments with the City of Novato is one way to help both agencies on both their projects. Since few SMART construction contracts have been put out to bid yet, there is still a very good chance that in this economic climate much of SMART's construction costs will come in much lower than first estimated. Both SMART and the City Council are responding to the economic problem in a very responsible and prudent manner. SMART will be built and then we will have an alternative to more decades of freeway delay, waste, and pollution. As to building or buying a new City Office building: How does anyone know which will cost more? The City is still getting data. And no, an existing building is not necessarily a better purchase than a new building once seismic requirements and code upgrades and other requirements are added. The process is almost complete, but final numbers are not yet done.
Lloyd May 04, 2011 at 09:17 PM
Marla, I agree that mixed use development and walk to conveniences are part of our future. However being convenient to transit is a far cry from being convenient to watching the transit pass you by. I don't believe we should take anything Smart says for granted. This is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. It is indicative of past failed planning that tells us to build first and everything else will surely follow. A perfect example is Hamilton where for 10 years people have waited for transit and have been forced to commute by car to any conveniences and for work. If this system can't be built to stop where people want to and need to go then it is a failure from day one. A successful system needs to cultivate trust for ridership and prove it can be a real alternative. If Smart is a good idea then they should go to the Feds and apply for funding to make this a real project for all not just one that serves a few communities while bypassing the majority of our town.
Lloyd May 04, 2011 at 09:28 PM
Jerry being what Smart has told us to date has been so dramatically changed it begs the question of why we should trust them now? I say show us the business and construction plans. Show us the real costs. Ronald Reagan said "trust but verify". Secondly I am not satisfied being on their waiting list of next generation stations nor should our town be satisfied. We have 4 vital areas of possible commerce to be served. 1. North Novato 2. Downtown 3. Vintage Oaks 4. Hamilton. If we have a system that bypasses over 90% of our town population then we are effectively getting nothing from Smart except the illusion of a promise. If we want an alternative "to more decades of freeway delay, waste, and pollution" then watching the trainette go by doesn't cut it. Fix the problem, get Federal funding and find a way to get the stops needed so this has any chance of succeeding. we are only going to get one shot at this type of alternative transportation and I for one would like to think we didn't squander the opportunity. :>)
Lloyd May 04, 2011 at 09:32 PM
p.s. as for an office building the City could easily have found a Class B building in good condition that would have cost around $5-$6 million. Sure a brand new class A building for $16m would be nice but think of what we could do with that $10 million for our town. Schools, roads, senior housing, and the list goes on and on. I do not have an agenda as to where except it would be nice somewhere in the downtown/N. Redwood Corr area.
FINNEGAN'S MARIN May 04, 2011 at 09:38 PM
David L., Thanks for the comments. First and foremost, Finnegan's loves having city employees in attendance at Finn's or shopping anywhere downtown. However, as stated in our argument, the cost to build is ridiculously higher than buying existing and the location the council is discussing purchasing would completely eliminate the ONLY city owned lot downtown, thereby negating the one spot for much needed parking and inhibit any hope of commercial growth going forward (where will theatre patrons park and why would any further businesses eye downtown if there is a huge parking issue?). Additionally, we believe that there is a much better "vision" for downtown and it would include closing Sherman Ave permanently and creating a true "town square" with walking paths, a stage, ringed by a few businesses (think the 3 city owned vacant buildings there with restaurants, a coffee shop, ect.. ) and a parking facility, on the aforementioned lot, to accomodate theatre parking, downtown parking, and to encourage real business growth in Old Town Novato. Building city offices downtown, simply because "they were there before" (not your quote David..rather a city officials recent quote) or because a few other cities built them there years before, cannot trump common financial sense or the potential for a project that would cost the city far, far less and benefit far, far more people. Thanks!
David L May 04, 2011 at 11:56 PM
Thanks for your reply Mr. Finnegan's. I think your vision is nice, but basically you seek a sterile, urban shopping mall that excludes any sort of office or white collar employment and is barely used ost of the time. How often is that nice green next to City Hall used now? You ignore any concern that City employees are and, if you had your way, would remain working at a site where the only convenient access is by private car. Cities have a duty to plan smartly and that means locating offices where their employees can have decent commutes and access to mass transit. Perhaps you have proposed alternatives to Vintage Oaks but I don't see that here. Contrast your view with the folks at Circle Bank, who envision mixed use in that area.
FINNEGAN'S MARIN May 05, 2011 at 03:53 AM
David, Thanks. The big issue here is cost. Building new will cost far, far more than buying existing. The city just attempted to address a 5yr annual budet short fall of $4.5mm per year. We cannot afford city offices downtown. The city offices can be in a multitude of locations (everything is for sale right now as many properties are distressed or are soon to be). Should they stay where they are there are mass transit options there. I only propose that these offices should not be built & they should not supplant the 1 available source of potential parking downtown. City offices WILL negate this parking & then any future development (including the current efforts to open the theatre) will be severely hindered. In my opinion, it will be destroyed. As far as your ascertion that "my way" would burden downtown with a "sterile, urban shopping mall".. I guess I wasn't clear or maybe that is your view of any proposed development other than city offices downtown. The vision I am promoting is one where the 3 city owned buildings (the vacant craftsman buildings on Sherman) maintain their architectual integrity & house businesses that are potentially open from 7am until midnight (independent coffee shop, small restaurants, or maybe a B&B) & further more are open 7 days per week & cater to the 50k+ thousand people, many of whom are.. currently leaving Novato (on many nights) to meet in towns that have squares/plazas (ex: Sonoma, Healdsburg, Mill Valley)..
FINNEGAN'S MARIN May 05, 2011 at 03:54 AM
..I own a business downtown, an operation in which I have invested a considerable sum. I grew up in this town, I care deeply about Novato and what happens to our downtown. I am sure you care too. Although I believe downtown offices have some value (bringing 50+ employees and the business that city offices bring 4 days per week) I believe that the exorbinant cost to build, the complete removal of the one source of additional parking, and the opportunity to create something special (a downtown plaza easily accessible for nightly events, and multiple new businesses that will draw hundreds, if not more, all day long) that would fully realize the potential that downtown holds.. FAR outweighs building city offices that benefit FAR FAR fewer. David, if these clarifications and my arguments don't sway you, I will leave you with just one question: Why would you want to pay twice as much for something (city offices) when the city just had to address an annual 5yr budget short fall of $4.5mm? By not addressing this you would seem to ignore the concerns of the 50k+ taxpayers here to benefit a few that may or may not want to take public transit. I respect your opinion but I could not disagree more. Thank you.
David L May 05, 2011 at 05:34 AM
I respect your opinions as well, Henry (?), but to address your points as succinctly as I can, I think your priorities are short-sighted. The decision being made now is one that will probably shape the city for decades if not more. Looking at this year's budget is myopic. Your 'clarification' only confirms what I am concerned about - a vision of the city core where you find nothing but retail shops and restaurants. We have Vintage Oaks for that. I'm no expert in city planning but I do know this: every person who has spent the time to think about what we need to do to make sure our cities survive and prosper says the same thing: mix retail, residential and office uses so that people have the freedom to live, shop and work without jumping into their cars, and build around transit hubs. Putting the Novato City offices in the City center is in line with that goal and I support it.
Lloyd May 05, 2011 at 02:01 PM
Actually Fred if you read my comment you would have found I agreed with you. And they hired the new sup for $45000 more a year.
Lloyd May 05, 2011 at 02:08 PM
David I have to disagree. Perhaps 95% of the city employees do not hang around after 5 but commute home out of Novato. You have to have mixed use and residential to gain vibrant activities that support a downtown that doesn't roll up the sidewalks at night.I know having parking is essential because people won't go where they can't park and it is an nice to have the City offices in the area so how about that lovely gateway property currently used as what some might call a flophouse right on the corner of Diablo and Front where the City already owns property? That way you add to our downtown without taking away from sites that might have a better use.
Edwin Drake May 05, 2011 at 11:37 PM
A few things: The City keeps screaming about how they want retail, for the sales tax revenue. If so, then they should maximize the retail aspect of Downtown, "cutify" it and let it be shops and restaurants. (The Finnegan's plan is the right idea.) PLUS, we've still heard NOTHING from the city about mixed use in the North Redwood area. The entire areaa, from DeLong to Atherton, should be looked at in totality. (It's not like this is San Francisco, with far flung and distinct areas. ) City offices, if they go "downtown" could be nestled in among the light industrial area between Olive and Sweetser, along with mixed use zoning for that area. (If we wait long enough, I'm sure the soon-to-be-abandoned Whole Foods store could be used for city offices. ) Don't force change, but as it comes allow developers to build up density in that location. The use of the parking area is shortsighted and will leave us nowhere because, for better or worse, this is STILL a car-centric society and buses will never run often enough to bring people out to dinner and them back home. Wishing otherwise doesn't make it so. (more)
Edwin Drake May 05, 2011 at 11:37 PM
(con't) As for the land swap with SMART: DON'T DO IT!!! The City will swap Atherton area land for the Downtown DEpot to what end? And what guarantees do we have that the Downtown Depot won't need to be destroyed, as is Whistlestop in San Rafael, because it's too close to the tracks. An operating train right-of-way severly limits options. Look at the land next to CalTrain on the Penisula, there's nothing along it except fence. Even entertaining this idea is the typical short-sighted, "I may not be a planner but I can pretend" attitude from the City Council and "Staff" that continues to bite us in the bottom. When will we learn?
Edwin Drake May 05, 2011 at 11:40 PM
And for David L - the "mixed" in Mixed Use is residential, so that there are still people around after the office workers go home. Office/Retail gets you nothing. If the city wanted to help, they'd build an apartment building, with a ginormous parking structure, on that city owned lot. As it's near the Police Station, they could even include some affordable housing.
Roger May 07, 2011 at 07:12 PM
I heard from a neighbor that attended the affordable housing advisory panel meeting Wednesday that the group came up with a new idea...to place lots of dense housing in cow pastures just north of the Smart stop at San Marin. All the panel thought it was a good idea. It will help get that Smart stop approved now and few people live out there to care. But I live nearby in Partridge Knolls-II and care. I am quite willing to have my share of affordable housing near me, but it seems that other parts of Novato need to have their share, too. I heard the panel a month ago say they wanted to avoid concentrating affordable housing and creating hot spots for crime. Well, afforable housing locating guidelines require retail to be close, so that will probably trigger a 7-11 to be built at the corner of Redwood and WoodHollow. Are we really headed in the right direction here? I thought the far north Redwood area was zone for commercial/business for a reason. The next meeting of the advosory housing panel is May 18th.
Edwin Drake May 08, 2011 at 06:19 AM
Putting City offices in the current downtown area (somewhere near oldtown Grant) is a waste of both money and space. On an annualized basis the City employees won't pump THAT much money into the local area, and the space is better used for either residential and/or parking. The "mixed" in mixed use is residential, so that retail establishments have potential customers after everyone goes home. And this idea of live-work-play in the same area is fantasy. That's why the city needs to foster a 24/7 customer base for local retail/commercial establishments. The elephant in the room is the zoning for North Novato. What the heck is going on with that anyway? (You'd think the city was planning a D-Day invasion the way the way they LOVE secrecy.) As for getting around (in both directions, more or less) : Shuttle from Fireman's along Redwood Blvd then in-and-around Grant and THEN along Railroad and UNDER FREEWAY to hospital and Vintage Oaks (which are physically close to Oldtown) then maybe out Rowland and along Novato to Simmons (or San Marin) and out to Fireman's again and the other direction as well.
Edwin Drake May 08, 2011 at 06:27 AM
The idea of affordable housing north of Fireman's Fund, is idiotic ... and EXACTLY the stupidity one can expect from this city council and staff. Roger is right: affordable housing must be near transit options (and SMART is not a transit option ... too few stops and in all the wrong places) Why, oh why, are we hearing nothing about mixed use and form based zoning in the North Redwood plan? The City is goig to foul this up, and we'll be suffering with dumb decisions for years. It's Dillon -Knutson deja vue: Her comment on the Whole Foods project 'I didn't know it would be so big,' (or words to that effect. When WILL the City Council and staff shake the cobwebs out of their heads and think long-term, common-sense, and practical? Just watch, North Redwood will end up all two-story commercial and it will be, essentially, another Vintage Oaks. There is already a surfeit of retail space in Novato, and they will simply add to the glut without adding any customers to the base.
Roger May 09, 2011 at 11:56 PM
I am actually looking forward to the City Council election this Fall. Chance to send a message...if the right candidates run.

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