It’s in the really early stages, but a plan to build a new senior housing complex on Novato’s east side is under way.
A Novato developer has proposed to have a commercial property rezoned for 117-unit senior housing community at a vacant chunk of land near the junction of highways 101 and 37, a city official said.
West Bay Builders, a large-scale public works and heavy civil builder based in Bel Marin Keys, is pursuing plans for the old McPhail's property, a flat parcel just north of Highway 37 and just south of the Hanna Ranch area, according to planning official Alan Lazure.
The undeveloped property, right next to the railroad tracks that are used for freight service and eventually for the SMART passenger train, is zoned for commercial use and would have to be rezoned for housing via a general plan amendment, Lazure said. West Bay Builders would have to fill out an application with the city to move forward to the Novato Design Review Commission or possibly the Novato Planning Commission, he said.
Rob Davison, development manager with West Bay Builders, reiterated that the plans turned into the city are very preliminary but that the complex would be complimentary to what’s already been approved at Hanna Ranch — a hotel, two restaurants, retail shops and several other buildings.
“Obviously there is a big demographic shift toward our aging population, and people are aging in place sometimes with inappropriate care and food. If you have a single-family home, sometimes that’s not the best place to be cared for when you reach a certain age. … What we’re talking about here is creating some first-class assisted living.”
The building, designed by Novato resident Bob Wright, would have 72,000 square feet of rentable space with a maximum of three stories. The Craftsman-style structure would have two restaurants, a pool, an art studio and gardens.
“The whole project would be oriented toward the (Hanna Ranch) hillside, so it would be attractive and would minimize the impact of getting rid of some of the oak trees,” which is part of the Hanna Ranch plans.
West Bay Builders has invested in three private-sector projects in Novato — the McPhail's property plus parcels at 803 State Access Road and an old gas station at Main Gate Road and C Street, both in Hamilton. The McPhail’s plans are furthest along, Davidson said.
The McPhail's site was approved for office space in 2008, but West Bay president Paul Thompson has pursued housing projects such as assisted care and full care rather than commercial developments partly because of slow economy.
“We’ve owned the site since 2004 and we’ve gone through several iterations of what we wanted to do there,” Davidson said. “We’ve been approached by senior housing developers who are very excited about owning and operating facilities in Novato.”
Another senior housing facility is opening soon on Diablo Avenue in the downtown area. Hayward-based Eden Housing said a grand opening for the Warner Creek complex would be in the coming weeks.
"Senior facilities are a hot item now," Lazure added.
The tentative proposal at McPhail’s is for 68 one-bedroom units, 14 two-bedroom units, 11 studio units and 20 “memory care” units plus a variety of other units, Lazure said. Among those, there is talk of making about a dozen of the units for below-market-rate prices.
“(Affordable housing) is an issue in the city, and we’re trying to do our part to provide that BMR housing,” Davidson said.
West Bay is wary about access concerns to the site, Davidson said. The Hanna Ranch development will not have public access to Highway 37 or directly to Highway 101 (only via private road), so whenever that gets built, drivers will have to get there by cruising down Rowland Way behind Costco. If plans pan out for the McPhail’s senior complex, drivers would be able to reach Highway 37 via the Marsh Road and Hanna Ranch Road exits.
“It’s a little too early to tell about access and how it’s going to play out,” Davidson said. “Using common sense, it makes sense to have access to Hanna Ranch Road. … It’s going to be an ongoing discussion with the city about how it would work. The question remaining is whether we will be able to connect to Hanna Ranch other than emergency access on a private road.”