Updated City Office Designs Meet Pointed Criticism

Design Review Commission and public chime in on altered drawings for new Old Town home for city workers.

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.”

, and .

Danny Skarka October 24, 2011 at 07:05 PM
If it needs to cleverly disguised, then maybe it shouldn't be there. Whole Foods showed us that big buildings don't fit in downtown. With the added shopping mall already planned for Redwood Blvd, why is the City Council building us to look like San Rafael? I'd rather look like Larkspur. Let downtown have some breathing room for community events, farmers markets, daily outings. A community atmosphere with character. Quality of life. City offices at Rowland is fine. The infrastructure exists.
Worry October 24, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Susan Wernick October 24, 2011 at 07:31 PM
Even with the re-do, the building looks like something that was designed for a UC or state college campus in the 1960's. It has a retro look that doesn't fit in at all with downtown Novato. I think the architects can do a lot better than this. I know local architects who could do a better job. If were going to do this, let's do it right.
Tom S Baker October 24, 2011 at 07:44 PM
I say make it like the church building that cost over six million dollars and holds only 100 people . This town is stupid. Vote them out of office or we will go down with them
Jeffrey Schaub October 24, 2011 at 07:55 PM
We need to create something exceptional. Quite Frankly, perhaps we need to continue the tone of the City Council (Church) building and the Community Center. This design looks dated...a kind of retro sixties concept. Certainly not iconic. We can do better!
Worry October 24, 2011 at 07:58 PM
Eleanor Sluis said the building looked like something that belonged in "North Carolina". I'm not sure what that means but if it means architecture there looks like a big pile of burning money then I agree.
Bob Ratto October 24, 2011 at 09:19 PM
Egads, you are right...it is my freshman year off campus dorms at Chico all over again..it really is!
Dennis Cooper October 25, 2011 at 01:31 AM
I agree with you. However, we should all know that back in March when the Council approved the sale of “tax exempt” redevelopment bonds to pay for this project, 75 Rowland was removed as a viable option. Yes, 75 Rowland continued to be included on paper as the one “buy existing” option during discussion of the project and was included as one of three options presented for the Council to choose from in May. But it was not actually available as an option. This is because use of proceeds from “tax exempt” bonds are restricted to capital improvement projects, must be used within 3 years, and only 5% of a building purchased or built with these funds can be leased to private (non government) parties (IRC sec. 141 and 142). 75 Rowland is 80k sq ft. The City was going to use 20k and lease out the remainder, raising some much needed revenue. That is not possible with the tax exempt bond proceeds. The first two restrictions were presented at the meeting to review and approve the bond sale. This 5% restriction was left out of the presentation.
Dennis Cooper October 25, 2011 at 01:37 AM
This building will never be right, no matter the design, as long as it is being paid for with redevelopment bond proceeds which are prohibited from being used directly or indirectly for City offices (see sect. 33445(g)). I expect the City will say that it's legal in this case because the proceeds were paid back to the General Fund first. However, the stated reason for the bond sale was to raise funds to build City offices and the proceeds are restricted to capital improvement projects and must be spent within 3 years. How can funds with these restrictions be considered General Funds? The money didn't have these restrictions on it when the General Fund loaned it to the Redevelopment Agency years ago. Most of the money given to the General Fund after the bond sale was never in the General Fund in the first place, but is “interest” on the original loan. So any way you slice it, these are tax increment funds being used for City Offices. Whether we build offices in Old Town, someplace else, or buy existing; no matter the design, the square footage, how much parking there is, or how many years the building will stand, we need to make the money right and legal before we do anything with it.
Steve B October 25, 2011 at 04:24 AM
No wonder why architects have a high suicide rate! That looks like an ugly Elementary school building from the 1950's. So dated, so ugly... What is wrong with our NorCal roots? Do a Mission-style or ranch-style building... Timeless beauty.
Tina McMillan October 25, 2011 at 04:31 PM
Dennis How much could we spend on an existing building, only used to house city staff and park city vehicles, if we were to use the proceeds from the bond sale?
Dennis Cooper October 26, 2011 at 05:08 AM
Tina, The redevelopment Agency paid various City reserve funds $6.1m in cash and the bond sale gave the City $14.9m for the City Offices. So theoretically, there is $6.1m cash to spend. The problem is all of this money is at risk of going away. The legislation that was passed at the beginning of this year to disband Redevelopment Agencies (RDA's) would invalidate any loan agreements between Cities and their RDAs. That legislation is being challenged and it is anticipated that the court will make its ruling in January or February of 2012. If the court upholds the legislation, the bond money and the $6.1M cash would very likely go away. Any potion that the City has spent (like what has been spent on the architect) would need to be paid back out of the General Fund. The City elected to pay a remittance to keep the RDA open, but as noted at the Economic Development Commission meeting on the 14th, the requirements of paying to keep the RDA are not fully fleshed out and we won't really know details until we hear from the State next year.


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