Novato sprawls with Hanna Ranch

The planned architecture.

Two weeks ago, Novato approved the Hanna Ranch project, the city’s newest commercial development.  Squashed between Highway 37 to the southeast, Highway 101 to the southwest, wetlands to the northeast and the Village Oaks big-box development to the northwest, Hanna Ranch is the epitome of sprawl development.  Inaccessible to anyone without a car, its only access road dead-ends within the development, rendering bus access impractical, and the only connection to the city proper is a freeway overpass a mile to the north.  New utility lines will need to be built, and emergency services will need to go out of their way to serve the development – an expensive prospect.

What will the city get for their trouble?  A hotel, some retail and a few restaurants on an eight acre site akin to an office park, far from any of the amenities that define Novato.  Income from the development will be equivalent to around $650,000, but that doesn’t count the added expenses described above.

Given the push in the city to improve downtown, this is a step backwards.  Hotel visitors will be socked away in neighborhood that could just as well be in San Jose, Boise, or Dallas – a forgettable corner of Novato if there ever were one.  Locating a hotel downtown would leave patrons with the small-town feel the city wants to foster and drive customers to local businesses rather than the chains that will doubtless move into the Hanna Ranch development.  Adding more restaurants and retail downtown would continue to concentrate commerce in the core, promoting vitality for all of downtown.

Although councilmembers promoted this project as a way to combat blight, it will likely do the opposite.  In promoting development far from downtown, Novato encourages people to come off Grant’s sidewalks and drive to chains at Vintage Oaks and Hanna Ranch.  Traffic gets worse, downtown patronage declines, and everyone loses.

Novato is often seen as the black sheep of the Marin family of communities.  Recent decisions to move city offices downtown was supposed to be a turning point for the city, but by approving Hanna Ranch the Council has shown itself unwilling to abandon its sprawling ways to the detriment of all Marin.

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Mid-Week Links: Buffering

MCBC does wonderful work on bike paths, getting the whole county connected, but it neglects the needs of better on-street bike lanes and what they could do to improve the streetscape for all users.

Marin County

Novato’s city council meeting Monday night was four hours of non-stop affordable housing policy excitement. In sum, the city will allow second units to be built at market rates but, citing concerns over current residents of illegal second units, will not give amnesty to those illegal units. The fee to build the second units will come down, and the city will look into how to encourage second unit construction. The city will not implement an affordable housing fee on commercial developers, known as a commercial linkage fee, but did not rule out exploring it in the next housing element in two years. (City of Novato, IJ)

  • Fairfax is concerned that expanding White Hill Middle School will add more traffic to the town’s roads. Unfortunately, the school’s remote location 1.5 miles from downtown means mitigation will be tough. (IJ)
  • Once again, a car accident closed a direction of Highway 101. This time, all southbound lanes were closed. Only minor injuries were reported. (IJ)
  • Marin Transit will reevaluate its Novato bus lines over the next week to determine how to improve ridership. Ideas include extending the 49 and combining the 51 and 52. GGT should work with Novato to improve access, perception, and urban form in the area. (News Pointer)
  • It’s official: Gary Phillips is mayor of San Rafael, Gary Lion is mayor of Mill Valley, and Denise Athas is mayor of Novato. (IJ)
  • San Rafael extended a moratorium on opening new group homes of seven or more people. (IJ, Patch)
  • Another week, another pedestrian struck in Novato. The man suffered minor injuries while crossing De Long Avenue near Sherman Avenue, a block from downtown. (IJ)
  • Apparently Marinites like their government and are willing to pay to keep it going at current levels. (IJ)
  • Safe Routes to School has dramatically altered the behavior of students in Marin, shifting 8% of single-student car trips to walking, biking, transit, or carpooling. (IJ; TAM report available here [pdf] on page 183)
  • Mill Valley is testing a way to electronically comment at city council meetings, which can be done here. A certain blogger you know will probably take full advantage. (IJ, City of Mill Valley)
  • San Anselmo is showing its community colors by supporting a woman who has had a particularly tragic year: foreclosure, breast cancer, and the tragic death of her husband while on vacation. (IJ)
  • Cutting trees is a big issue in San Geronimo Valley, where tree-cutting fees are up to 30 times what they are in incorporated Marin. (IJ)
  • The eviction of Fairfax’s medical marijuana dispensary will go forward. (IJ)
  • The Transportation Authority of Marin approved about $1 million in bike/ped projects at its last meeting. (IJ)
  • Peaking of bike/ped projects, the IJ editorial board wonders whether the $15 million bike/ped bridge over Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is worth the money. (IJ)
  • Just to be clear: Stand Up for Neighborly Novato doesn’t like the idea of housing at Hanna Ranch. If you want to comment on the sprawl development, please do: Novato City Council has scheduled discussion on the project for December 13. (IJ, Patch)
  • The runway at Novato’s Gnoss Field could be extended without major environmental impact. (IJ)
  • SMART and other projects are now evaluated under a cost-benefit and target analysis from MTC. The results were mixed. (Press Democrat)

The Greater Marin

  • San Francisco will soon allow drivers to pay for parking via cell phone. Since Sausalito is emulating the city’s performance parking practices, might cell phone parking come to Marin soon as well? (SFGate)
  • Cotati’s HOV lanes are now open to vehicles. (North Bay Business Journal)
  • The suburban office park – a la Marin Commons, Fireman’s Fund and Hanna Ranch – is disappearing. (Times)
  • Marin is better poised than most to take advantage of the shift away from suburban office parks and towards centralized development: with the SMART train, strong downtowns and some local political will, commerce might still look to Marin to relocate, even if not in the typical places.
  • ABAG and MTC have been awarded a $5 million federal grant to promote sustainable communities. (Transportation Nation)
  • Population growth has slowed dramatically in California. While the state grew at a rate of 0.7% per annum, Marin grew only by 0.53%.
  • In planning there is a concept known as Level of Service, or LOS, which is widely used and places auto traffic at the top of the planning pyramid.  In San Francisco, that metric is being challenged at last. (The Atlantic Cities)
  • SANDAG has released a Sustainable Communities Strategy under Senate Bill 375.  How long until ABAG does the same? (ClimatePlan)