New Project Proposed in Novato; The Pavilions
Updated: Aug 28, 2018
Kelley Kromhout | NextGen Marin
On August 1, 2018 the Novato Design Review Commission met at the local city hall to discuss a proposed project titled “The Pavilions”. The 3.4 acre site is located at 200 Landing Court, a cul-de-sac that branches off of Redwood Boulevard across the street from the Novato Fire Department. The applicant, Novato Creek Partners, is interested in building 26 for-sale live-work units, which innovative businesses are starting to promote due to the fact that these styles of units can reduce or completely eliminate people’s commutes. The slope of the site, which is estimated to be around 22%, creates a challenge for the developer, who has decided to utilize numerous retaining walls, some as tall as eight or ten feet high. Also slated to be included in the project is a “business center,” (recently offered as a “business or community center”) which could provide business-owning tenants a place to meet with customers. Finally, a neighborhood park was added to appease tenants and neighbors.
With approximately twenty citizens in attendance at this meeting, people were interested in hearing about the project in its conceptual phase from architect Chris Craiker, who has worked in architecture in Marin County for over forty years. The plan has four townhome-style units at the end of Landing Court, with twelve others behind those. A new road would need to be paved to connect the remaining townhomes behind the four on the cul-de-sac. The road would also lead from the end of Landing Court uphill, passing the proposed 1,800 square foot business center and adjacent park area, leading to ten family-style live-work units at the top of the hill.
The title of the project included the words “eco-village” and “net zero,” but for some reason this topic wasn’t discussed during the meeting. (The applicant only mentioned rooftop solar panels in passing once throughout the duration of the meeting.) Details of the units that were discussed include: the distance (or lack thereof) between units on the top portion of the site (only six feet, to be exact); restrictions on the types of “work” allowed on the site (welding, storing fuel, and adult enterprises are a few of the businesses not allowed); and Novato’s parking requirements for these specialized units (two or more off-street parking spots must be made available for each unit). The units would be be sold off in parcels, much like condos. In addition, because there are over 20 proposed units, the Novato Municipal Code (herein referred to as NMC) requires that 20% of the units (about 5 units) be affordable. Finally, the NMC dictates that an art project costing a third of one percent of construction costs be included in this residential development (because it contains five or more units) in order to “enrich the lives of residents and visitors, create a unique sense of place and enhance the attractiveness and quality of life within the community.” (Qualifying developments may pay a fee equivalent to the cost of the art project, with proceeds going to a city-administered art fund.)
Despite Craiker’s apparent experience and plan revisions, there were several concerns voiced by members of the public and Design Review Commissioners alike. Residents who live both above and below the site on the hill are concerned that their views would be obstructed by the units and crowd the area. Another concerning thought came from Clausing Court’s residents, who would lose the row of trees behind their houses to the proposed business center. Residents on Clausing Court and Landing Court understandably asked, “What’s in it for us? This seems like this is just happening to us, as opposed to us receiving some benefit from the project.” Property values for neighbors would supposedly increase, but people suggested that the park land adjacent to the business center be made into a playground for all kids to enjoy.
The Commissioners had many thoughts. They echoed residents’ concerns about the impact of the view of the development, stating that these units would be very visible from Highway 101; they proposed that a landscaping buffer be created as a barrier between the two. The retaining walls were deemed “brutal,” and understandably so: Commissioners say that a large number of retaining walls indicates that the applicant is “forcing the project on the site,” as opposed to working with the environment. The projects was repeatedly called “too dense”; just because a floor-area-ratio requirement is set at a certain density standard doesn’t mean that the capacity of the land should be pushed to the max. One Commissioner proposed moving the park area closer to the cul-de-sac in order to create a more pleasant entrance to the project. Another question was posed: why have a business center if the units are supposed to be live-work? It seemed like the community center would be preferable to a business center.
This Design Review meeting about the Pavilions Eco-Village was merely conceptual, but there’s a lot of work to be done before this project can progress. Although it’s clear that more housing is needed in Marin (and the Bay Area as a whole), it’s important for developers to keep the surrounding community’s concerns in mind, as involved residents may be (and often are) the difference between projects that are able to get a shovel in the ground and projects that never come to fruition (despite the financial costs incurred and extensive time it takes to go through the building process). City committees and councils, such as design review commissions, exist to ensure that developments include and address communities’ concerns & suggestions, and it seems that this meeting was well-needed. It may be awhile before this project comes back before the public; regardless, it’s important to stay informed about proposed projects in your local community and make your voice heard by attending local meetings regarding projects you care about.