The architects of the planned listened to feedback from the Novato Design Review Commission as well as the public, and the basic message — sort of in Broadway rehearsal style — was “once more, with feeling.”
Steve Worthington of showed new drawings and gave an interactive tour on the big screen at l on Oct. 19. He showed the main ways in which previous designs unveiled in September had been tweaked and downscaled.
After considerable feedback, the commission voted 3-0 to approve the basic exterior design and finish materials and advance the drawings to the Novato City Council.
The council voted to building a new home for city workers, although council members Pat Eklund and Carole Dillon-Knutson did not hold back criticism of the plans for the building that will be home to about 60 city workers when they saw RMW’s first designs.
Resident David Burns did not mince words Wednesday, saying, “The impression I get is of every motel I’ve ever seen along the freeway. I think the building will look very dated very soon. It reminds me of architecture that doesn’t really speak to what this community stands for. This community is changing and growing, and I think we deserve a building that shows that. Quite frankly, we deserve something spectacular.”
One major change in the fresh designs is the disappearance of a gabled and columned entryway on the building’s south side, which would face City Hall. With the Monticello look gone, the roofline is 4 ½ feet lower than the .
“With the peak lowered, we can get the building as low as possible,” Worthington said.. “We’ve generated a new scheme with a slight slope to roof and allowing the roof to be not much of an elevation. This is a very big departure from the last scheme.”
Design Review Commissioner Patrick MacLeamy said he liked a lot of what he saw on the new design, but wasn’t wild about the sloped roof that dips toward the south. He said preserving the view of Mount Burdell from the north-facing City Hall patio is essentially a lost cause.
“I do not believe — unless you did a flat roof, and don’t even think about that — that you can preserve the view (of Mount Burdell),” MacLeamy said. “I think you have reverted to extreme measures in an attempt to preserve the view, and I think it’s getting in the way of the look of the building.
“I think this is a building with good bones, but we need the right suit of clothing, makeup and hair to make it all work.”
Former Novato City Council members Susan Stompe and Gail Wilhelm, longtime advocates of a civic center complex in Old Town, both expressed lukewarm feelings about Worthington’s latest drawings.
Stompe said the revisions were vastly improved over the first ones and the tighter mass of the building was a better fit for the location at Cain Lane and Machin Avenue. She said she wasn’t sure she liked the brick facing or the lack of trees in the adjacent outdoor parking lot, but she was pleased the “gaudy” entrance was gone.
“Maybe it’s not a grand architectural statement for our community, but it does the job and stays within budget,” Stompe said.
Wilhelm commended the designers for the interior layout, efforts to conserve energy, keeping the scale in line with other nearby buildings. However, the overall impression was “a bit of a disappointment,” she said. The roof pitch is totally out of character with neighboring structures, she added.
“City offices should like they’ve been here for 100 years, an honor that’s required for small-town character,” Wilhelm said. “ … I really think you need to make it more like Old Town.”
MacLeamy added, “It needs to be 21st century, but it needs to be cleverly disguised. It needs to be the cousin of the other buildings here.”
There were more harsh words from the public: Eleanor Sluis said it looked out of sync and like “something from North Carolina,” and Gail Meyers described it as too modern and styled like a factory building. Tom Telfer, chair of the Design Review Commission, described the look as industrial and functional.
“If we need to have that, let’s call a spade a spade,” Telfer said. “But I think you could take this shape and loosen it up with a different vernacular. You could have something that’s more interesting, more romantic, and still be functional.” Nonetheless, he called the overall plan a “winner.”
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