Novato seeks proposals to develop Hamilton properties

Updated: Jun 2, 2018

POSTED: 02/28/18, 6:09 PM PST

Author: Adrian Rodriguez

Publication: Marin Independent Journal

The former theater at the Town Center on Hamilton is part of a handful of city-owned parcels up for redevelopment. (Robert Tong/Marin Independent Journal)


Novato officials will begin shopping for suitors to develop three city-owned properties, including the prominent 4.9-acre Hamilton Town Center lot.

On a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the Novato City Council authorized City Manager Regan Candelario to proceed with requests for proposals to buy or lease and develop three Hamilton Field properties. Council members Pam Drew and Pat Eklund cast dissenting votes.

Councilman Eric Lucan made the motion for approval with the caveat the City Council review in closed session all proposals received, but that those proposals considered viable also will be presented in an open session.

“I think if we leave that decision process only up to staff to make that leaves us very vulnerable as an organization,” Lucan said. “As elected council members we are elected to make those tough decisions and face the heat for those decisions, so I think the council should be the one determining whether or not it’s financially viable.”

Eklund wanted to avoid a closed session altogether. She pointed out that last year Hamilton residents petitioned to block high-density housing at the Town Center site after seeing that the property was up for discussion during a closed session at a council meeting.

“We have committed to be open and transparent,” she said. “Let’s turn this process around and let’s make it work for everybody.”

Drew wanted the city to retain ownership of the Town Center lot and thought the city could use profits from the other Hamilton properties toward funding a project there.

Moving forward, the city will be issuing three separate requests for proposals in a sequence beginning in March with the commissary property, a 4.7-acre plot at 802 State Access Road. A proposal here will include an option to pitch a project for the adjacent Christmas Tree Hill lot.

The other properties available are the Town Center lot at 507 S. Palm Drive, which includes the Hamilton theater and the community center, and the Bachelor’s Officers Quarters on 19 acres at 113 San Pablo Ave.

The city staff will review proposals 90 days after issuing the requests. The city could keep the request process open until the council decides to enter into negotiations, at which point the request for proposals of the next project would not be issued.

There are several conditions that the city will impose on the applicants.

City officials are requiring that a proposal for the Town Center site to restore the theater to federal historic preservation standards, estimated to cost at least $2.7 million. And if the community center is part of the development plan, that the applicant replace and or maintain the function it provides to the Hamilton neighborhood.

At the Bachelor’s Office Quarters, that building would also need to be restored to standards, estimated to be about $7 million. The applicant would have to maintain or restore the Old Hamilton Gym, or exclude it from the proposal. Parking will also have to be provided.

Among top concerns was that the Town Center site is the heart of Hamilton and should be a place for people to gather. One audience member asked that the city consider the site as a city-funded capital improvement project rather than a private-public partnership.

Assistant City Manager Peggy Flynn said Wednesday, “It is very important to the City Council that the public see and get to weigh-in on every possible viable proposal.”

Along with the proposals, applicants would have to provide a concept or vision for the project and demonstrate financial capacity to show they could fund the project. They would also have to propose an outreach program to engage the community for input.

Applicants will be subject to nine or more public meetings, including community workshops, as part of the selection and approval process, said Scott Ward, director of the city’s Hamilton Base Reuse.

In order to encourage participation in the request for proposals, the city will be open to proposals to lease, buy and other agreements, Ward said.

This will “let the proposers tell us what they see on the sites,” he said. “And that way we can maximize the number of proposals and maximize the number of choices the community has.”

Deed restrictions on the three Hamilton sites were removed in March 2016. The development prohibitions that once protected the properties from reuse have been transferred to preserve 93 acres of undeveloped, city-owned land that cradles Marin Valley Mobile Country Club. That area had been eyed for potential residential development, but will now remain protected as open space.

The Hamilton properties were initially given to the city through the federal Lands to Parks program, which allows communities to create parks and recreation areas on surplus federal land. Under the program, the parcels could not be sold and were required to be used for recreation.

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