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Novato Planning Commission Hearing{Revised housing ordinance}new affordable housing change

Monday, July 30, 2007
7:30 PM - 10:30 PM
Event Type:
415 899-8900
Location Details:
Meeting end time is a guess

Novato Unified School District headquarters at 1015 Seventh St.

IJ Articles and public notices = with sites info added

Hearing set on revised housing ordinance
Staff Report
Article Launched: 07/28/2007 12:42:07 AM PDT

The Novato Planning Commission
will hold a public hearing Monday on a revised affordable housing ordinance.

The proposed ordinance would set new affordable housing requirements, including fees, for new development in the city.

The meeting is at 7:30 p.m. in the board room at Novato Unified School District headquarters at 1015 Seventh St.

For more information, call 899-8900

Novato group protests planned housing
Rob Rogers
Article Launched: 07/10/2006 04:30:00 AM PDT

Residents of the Virginia Avenue neighborhood are contesting the Planning Commission's approval of a proposed affordable housing development in their area.

Residents are asking the City Council to void the Planning Commission's approval of the Virginia Grove development, which would bring eight homes to .65 acres. At least three of those homes would be reserved for people making $75,000 to $135,000 a year.

Developer Rob Hart and advocates for affordable housing have described the project as an opportunity for teachers, firefighters, nurses and other essential service personnel to afford a home in the city where they work.

But neighbors have repeatedly declared that eight homes is too many for the area. Their arguments persuaded members of the Design Review Committee, which recommended on April 5 that Hart downsize the project to six homes.

Hart has argued that the state's affordable housing laws allow him to bypass local regulations on the number of homes he can build. The Planning Commission agreed, overturning the committee's decision on June 19.

Last week, Virginia Avenue resident Maureen Scheuenstuhl issued an appeal of the Planning Commission decision on behalf of "concerned residents of the
Virginia Avenue neighborhood."

In the letter, Scheuenstuhl objects to 10 aspects of the Virginia Grove proposal, including the number of houses and other concessions state law allows Hart regarding zoning and development requirements.

The letter also objects to Hart's assertion that the city cannot impose requirements upon him that would make it financially impossible for him to complete the project.

Most of the letter's objections address concessions allowed by state law, making it difficult for the Planning Commission - or City Council - to challenge them, said David Wallace, director of community development.

"The council can fully address these issues, as long as they don't do anything that would preclude the construction of the project," Wallace said.

But Scheuenstuhl said the city has not yet determined what is allowed by state law.

"The requirements of state law are defined based on a lot of factors," Scheuenstuhl said. "I don't think the city has looked clearly at the specifics of each and every factor."

In addition, state law allows cities to vote down affordable housing developments if they pose a threat to public safety. The neighbors' appeal charges Virginia Grove with such a threat, saying the development would build homes on contaminated soil and cause drainage problems for adjoining properties.

"Neighbors witnessed the spills," Scheuenstuhl said, adding that the development site became a repository for diesel and chemical spills decades ago. "The problem is that no one knows if the soil is still toxic. It's never been professionally cleaned."

Hart says the neighbors' concerns are baseless. "We have done thorough soils testing," Hart said. "We did an environmental assessment, and the city accepted it. It's obvious that this is just a campaign on the part of some people who want to try to stop the project."

If the council agrees with the neighbors, the city could ask Hart to conduct a soil study or clean up the site, Wallace said, though he doubted such a request would derail the project.

"If it turns out that the project would have a health or safety impact, the project can be denied," Wallace said. "However, if there is an impact, the council could order the applicant to mitigate that impact, rather than denying the project."

Yet even if the appeal fails, Hart says it has already caused an expensive delay.

"It seems like a waste of time to me, though certainly it's their right to appeal," Hart said. "But any delay hurts my ability to make this project affordable. We'd hoped to be able to begin immediately. But now we're not able to do that, and every delay costs me about $10,000 to $20,000 a month. Now, we won't be able to begin until at least July 31, and that hurts."



The City Council has planned a public hearing on the proposed Virginia Grove development at 6:30 p.m. July 25. The meeting will be at Novato Unified School District headquarters at 1015 Seventh St.

Read more Novato stories at the IJ's Novato page.

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at rrogers [at]


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