San Rafael residents review Northgate Shopping Center housing plan

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An emerging plan to redevelop the Northgate Shopping Center complex in Terra Linda is garnering mixed reviews, with some San Rafael residents saying it needs to include more housing and others less.

The project was the subject of a public review this week at a joint study session of the Planning Commission and the Design Review Board.

Since the announcement last spring that Northgate could become a mix of housing and retail, there have been around two dozen meetings with various stakeholders.

The site is classified as mixed-use in the General Plan 2040. The first phase in 2025 includes the demolition of the former Sears store, the HomeGoods building and approximately 140,932 square feet of the mall. This would be followed by construction for commercial and residential purposes.

The housing component would consist of 911 houses in six apartment buildings of up to five storeys. The project provides for 96 affordable residences as well as a structure and surface parking.

Another phase would not take place until 2040. It would include the demolition of Macy’s and Kohl’s stores, the installation of a “public square” and the addition of 409 residences and more commercial spaces.

The study session, which was held on Tuesday, did not involve any decision by the municipal authorities. Project planners Tricia Stevens and Christopher Beynon said public comments are needed before the next step, writing the environmental impact report for the project.

The Merlone Geier Partners development team, including staff member Stephen Logan, reminded the group that the site’s original plans with a Costco were not appreciated by the community. This led to the decision to reconsider its use for housing as well as for retail.

“Retail as a closed mall is dead,” Logan said.

Logan added that parking for residents is a major issue. The mall has 2,908 parking spaces and the new plan would reduce that number to 2,311, of which 1,789 are not reserved for apartments.

For over an hour, community members had the opportunity to describe their concerns about the project. While some expressed support for creating as many new housing units as possible, others were concerned about the scope of the project and its water needs.

Jessuina Pérez-Terán of the Marin Environmental Housing Collaborative said the project needs to move forward to help San Rafael meet its housing goals. The state has asked San Rafael to approve 3,220 new residences by 2031.

“People can’t find the accommodation they need, and they can’t afford it either, if they find it,” she said. “We are not building enough housing, including affordable housing.

Ruth Jaeger, a member of the affordable housing team at Marin’s organizing committee, called the project critical for creating “affordable housing for the workforce, which essential workers in our community desperately need.” “.

“This need is great across Marin County, not just in northern Marin,” she said. “Accepting fees as a substitute for building real affordable housing is counterproductive to meeting this great need at this time. “

Some commentators, like Terra Linda resident Claire Halenbeck, have said they want the central plaza to be built before 2040.

In an email sent to the city, Laura Silverman, member of Responsible Growth in Marin, wrote: “Why should residents of San Rafael travel outside of their own community to enjoy the benefits of a ‘center- city ​​”when we have the perfect opportunity to create something in our own backyard? “

Sharon Kovalsky, Member of the Design Review Board, said: “The heart of the project is the downtown square. I really feel that this city center has to be in the foreground.

Others, like David Smith, were concerned that the proposed building heights were too high. But Jenny Silva said, “We have to be able to grow taller. … The denser the housing, the more green spaces we can keep open.

Planning Commissioner Jon Previtali asked how the developer will ensure there is enough water for the project.

Leslie Mendez, an urban planning official, said the project would first be submitted to the county’s water and sanitation districts.

Community Development Director Alicia Giudice added that there is a “purple pipe” of recycled water near the site and residents will likely connect to it to reduce the use of potable water. Andy Neff, a representative of Merlone Geier, confirmed this.

“Is there a reason why you concentrated affordable housing in the (first) housing area rather than scattering it throughout the development? Says Previtali.

Logan said, “We can provide a better and more diverse type of affordable housing out there.” He said more housing would take 10 or 12 years and affordable apartments would be built faster.

“We understand where the zoning is and the general plan is, but we think that’s the best way to make this sitemap work,” he said.

Susan Coleman of Responsible Growth in Marin asked the developer to allocate affordable units fairly.

“Consider that separate but equal doesn’t really work with affordable housing,” she said. “What is important is that the life experience is the same. Many studies have noted that it is important that affordable housing is dispersed throughout other parts of the project, so that it also has the same life experience as everyone else in market-priced housing.

Bill Carney of Sustainable San Rafael called for building as many affordable residences as possible.

“Right out of the box, this could really be a signature development that could be good for the developers and definitely good for the community,” he said.

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