Novato residents concerned about zoning changes near downtown

POSTED: 03/10/17, 6:29 PM PST | UPDATED: ON 03/12/2017

Author: Stephanie Weldy

Publication: Marin Independent Journal


Neighborhood character, an influx of people and a crunch on street parking are among concerns in a neighborhood near Novato’s downtown, where plans are being proposed to streamline zoning.

Residents turned out Thursday to a city workshop to push back against a pitch for a more “traditional” zoning in the area city officials said contains a “hodgepodge” of styles, scales and structures. The neighborhood, known as the Northwest Quadrant, includes about 200 properties from just beyond Grant Avenue to Kaehler Street, and from Seventh to First streets.

The Design Review Commission will review the proposed zoning changes at a workshop March 15. The Planning Commission is expected to review details in April before the City Council takes a look in May or June. New zoning could be in place by this fall.

To help develop new guidelines, the city hired Opticos Design Inc. of Berkeley for $68,623 to create density standards that align with the general plan.

There are between six and 39 units per acre, with an average of 13.5 units per acre, in the area. The general plan allows 20 housing units per acre. Existing zoning for the neighborhood allows 10 units an acre, but not if a “sound” single-family house exists on a property.

City officials say the policy has encouraged deterioration of single-family homes to make way for redevelopment. Officials said most apartments also do not meet existing code and cannot be redeveloped without making the units smaller.

To align with the general plan, the city hopes to create zoning that will allow replacement of homes and other residential structures with single-family houses and duplex, triplex, fourplex and courtyard apartments, said Bob Brown, community development director.

Proposed changes include lowering the building height from three stories to 2.5 stories that can reach up into attic space; requiring residential entries face the street, and placing parking in rear lots at least 40 feet from the street and 10 feet from side streets.

Michael Schmale, a 14-year resident of the neighborhood, said he does not want to see his neighborhood taken over by apartments.

“I have a new grandson that’s 2 months old,” he said. “I want to have a nice, big yard for him to play in. I don’t want to see density. We moved to Novato to get away from the city because (Novato) was a town. Now they’re turning it into a city.”

Robert McCurdy, a two-year resident of the area, said he also fears a population influx and a run on street parking.

“I think what will happen is that the apartments will stay and the single-family homes will be redeveloped,” he said. “If anything, density will increase, versus decreasing the apartment density.”

McCurdy said more density would result in less available street parking in an area that already lacks parking space.

Michelle Derviss, who lives a block away from the area, said she is concerned the changes could affect affordable housing.

“This new zoning ordinance is a generous invitation (for) investment developers to drastically change the character of this downtown neighborhood and eliminate the stock of affordable single-family homes in the county of Marin,” she said.

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