Novato is right to take a look at hotel limits

POSTED: 09/24/17, 2:22 PM PDT

Publication: Marin Independent Journal: Editorial


For Novato’s City Council, some decisions are easier than others.

At its Sept. 12 meeting, the council voted 3-2 to consider — just consider — allowing hotels to be built at a greater density than other commercial development.

The concern, voiced by city staff, was density limits proposed, for example, in the much-debated North Redwood Boulevard Corridor — a commercial area stretching along the east side of Redwood Boulevard from Grant Avenue to San Marin Drive — could eliminate construction of a hotel. That’s because the density limit would be too restrictive, limiting the size of the number of rooms or other accommodations that could be built.

The staff had proposed that consideration of a higher density for hotels be evaluated as part of the city’s update of its general plan. Not that the higher density be written into the update, but that it be evaluated as a possible option in the plan’s environmental review.

While a zoning limit requiring a lower density could be a deal-breaker for hotel developers, it could also be a financial loss for the city, especially Novato which is always facing budget struggles.

For instance, city taxes on local lodging generates an average of $3,400 per room annually, according to city staff. For a 100-room hotel, that’s $340,000 per year, a sum that, for example, could help cover the salary, benefits and training for a police officer, plus some.

In addition, visitors help the economy by shopping and dining locally — also bolstering city tax revenue. Hotels also don’t generate much commute-period traffic.

City Hall is considering a proposed 103-room hotel for the North Redwood area, but a limitation built into the city’s plan for the area could be a legal hurdle for the project.

The higher density limit the city would look at is similar to the size of two Novato hotels, the Marriott Courtyard at Hamilton Field or America’s Best Value hotel, at the north end of the North Redwood area. Planning staff pointed out in its report to the council that other North Bay cities — such as Petaluma and Rohnert Park — allow even greater densities.

An analysis, which should be part of the general plan review, would consider issues such as traffic and visual impacts.

These days, as the state Legislature focuses on changing the planning process and pushing for construction of more housing, it is becoming more and more important to have specifity in cities’ general plans.

But Councilwomen Pat Eklund and Pam Drew were reluctant to proceed. Eklund voiced reservations about the review coming after the city had approved a plan, after hearing from the community, to limit densities in the Redwood Boulevard area. Drew said the developer, not the city, should pay the cost for the extra analysis.

Councilman Josh Fryday argued the city should move forward and stressed the review is about looking at possible revisions, not making any decisions.

Those decisions would be reached only after full public review and discussion, staff said. The City Council needs to make sure that that is a promise City Hall keeps.

Moving forward makes sense. Council members and the public deserve to have a fair and full analysis of possible impacts before deciding what should be built and where. That analysis makes sure all of the practical information, including economics, is on the table — open and public — before decisions are made.

Every council member should support that approach.

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