Novato council OKs exception to urban sprawl rules

POSTED: 10/31/18

Author: Will Houston

Publication: Marin Independent Journal

A Black Point resident stands near a garage near 290 Grandview Ave., Novato, in this 2018 photograph. (Provided by Greenbelt Alliance)

The Novato City Council voted Tuesday to make an exception to the city’s voter-approved urban sprawl restrictions to allow a controversial Black Point house-building project to proceed after years of delays and litigation.

The 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Pat Eklund dissenting, will allow San Anselmo resident Victoria Granucci to build a single-story home at 290 Grand Ave. as well as a leach field on the nearby Stone Tree Golf Course on which she has an easement. The vote also fulfills a settlement agreement reached earlier this year between Granucci and the city in a lawsuit disputing her right to install the leach field.

Granucci told the council she has suffered both “financially and emotionally because of all these delays.”

StoneTree Golf Course can be seen through an easement near 290 Grandview Ave., Novato, in this 2018 photograph. (Provided by Greenbelt Alliance)

“All I wanted to do for over 10 years was build this house on that lot and without the city’s action I will be left with a piece of property that is useless,” Granucci told the council on Tuesday.

The issue arose after the city issued a plumbing permit in error to the previous property owner to allow the installation of a septic system on the golf course easement. City officials say this was a mistake as it violated the urban sprawl rules adopted in 1997.

Granucci said she would have never bought the property for $407,000 in 2006 if it did not have the plumbing permit. City and county engineers determined soils on the property would not be suitable for an on-site septic system, thus the need for Granucci to build it on the easement.

After years of health issues, Granucci advanced her project through the county design review process, but Novato issued a letter claiming the leach field plans violated its urban sprawl rules. The property is within county jurisdiction, but the leach field is within Novato’s.

Granucci sued the city, with a settlement reached earlier this year for the city to make an exception, which city staff is allowed under the urban sprawl ordinance adopted by voters. The exception is allowed because denying the exception, and by consequence the ability to build her home, would be an “unconstitutional taking” of the property since the property is zoned to only allow single-family residential uses.

Neighbors and stakeholders said the council’s vote goes against the will of the voters who renewed the city’s Urban Growth Boundary rules last year for another 20 years. They also said the city would set a precedent for further exceptions in the future. City officials contested these claims, saying the circumstances that led to this case are likely to never be repeated and that conservation easements along the Black Point neighborhood would prevent similar exceptions.

Teri Shore, North Bay regional director to the environmental organization Greenbelt Alliance, opposed the exception, saying, “We think that the options have not been fully explored.”

She called for the city to consider other options such as a land swap, transfer of development rights, sale back to the previous property owner or a conservation easement.

Eklund cast the sole dissenting vote after hearing concerns from neighbors and inquiring whether an exception could be made.

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