• Posts
  • Northgate redevelopment, affordable housing and bears, oh my!

Northgate redevelopment, affordable housing and bears, oh my!

A rendering of Merlone Geir's vision for a residential/retail Northgate of the future.

A rendering of Merlone Geir's vision for a residential/retail Northgate of the future.

The city of San Rafael is facing a unique opportunity as it determines the redevelopment of Northgate mall.

The 45-acre site in the Terra Linda neighborhood is owned by Merlone Geir Partners, which plans a mixed-use project incorporating housing, retail, eateries and community space. Merlone would like the ambitious redevelopment to be done in two phases, one beginning in 2025, the other in 2040. As envisioned currently, the property could have as many as 1,422 housing units, including some for-sale housing.

The project has been kicked around at more than 40 public gatherings and it will continue to be reviewed in still other meetings. The San Rafael Design Review board is the latest public body to weigh in. It has issues over how much community space there is, the nature of the landscaping (no pun intended, just a bonus) and parking. When it comes to public review, Marin takes a backseat to no one in terms of a deliberate pace. We love us some process.

Housing will be the next area of public exploration. This is where the city’s ability to shape the project is critical. Before we get into specifics, let’s briefly talk reality, a place seldom tied to Marin development. 

Merlone is pursuing this project because Northgate is no longer a destination-shopping venue. Its highest value is in redevelopment, and Merlone knows it. This gives San Rafael a little bit of leverage, not a bad thing to hold when it comes to negotiations. This is not to say the city is calling all the shots; Merlone no doubt has a legal team on retainer, and they will drag the city into court to get value.

But the city is certainly in a position to demand affordable housing be something more than an afterthought when the final project is stamped approved. Merlone has tried to mitigate its affordable housing responsibilities by donating a 2-acre parcel to EAH Housing to build affordable apartments. 

Affordable housing, often referred to locally to as workforce housing (the more easily tolerated cousin gussied up with images of teachers and first responders) has long been a divisive issue. Many well-intentioned locals have rolled this rock up the hill and been crushed in the process. Critics have always said that, of course Marin needs affordable housing—just not in their neighborhood. They often cite issues like crime and decreased property values.

At a time when the gap between those with more than enough and those who need help has never been wider, San Rafael can do two important things at the same time. The first is to honestly address the issue and insist that enough affordable housing be included in the final project to have some impact on the community. 

The other consideration is something public officials love to talk about: They can send a message. By insisting affordable housing be an important element in “Northgate Town Square,” the Mission City can lead by example. It can show development isn’t always a bad word and the moniker Town Square is something more than a slick way to sell the redevelopment of a long-in-the-tooth mall to neighbors who will have to deal with traffic, a new community and a new skyline. 


Your Marin Moment 

My daily toils chasing the truth (a slippery pursuit) take me in close proximity to Wall Street, a famous hangout for bears.

But it seems that Marin can claim its own lair. Reports out of Novato say that neighbors close to Miwok Park should be aware of a mom bear and her cubs. 

The bulletin, from the Novato cop shop, comes on the heels of bear sightings in Terra Linda and Larkspur.

Though Marin is famed for its preservation of open space it has not escaped the reality that we have developed areas where wildlife traditionally lived. It is not uncommon to hear Marinites complain about how deer dine on the bounty of gardens that have been labored over lovingly. 

And while I understand the frustrations of those with green thumbs, I politely point out that the deer were here first. 

One late afternoon as I traveled from the Miracle Mile toward downtown San Rafael, I encountered a deer in the middle of the road, running toward the IHOP. I slowed, checked the mirrors and began doing a CHP impression, slowly weaving across the lanes trying to protect the deer and inhibit other drivers from scaring the animal any more than it was.

While I understand the danger of a momma bear protecting her cubs, it really is up to us to understand the situation we have created.    


Bill Meagher is a contributing editor at NorthBay biz. He is a senior reporter at The Deal, a Manhattan digital financial news outlet. The Giants perplex him and he likes the 49ers chances this season. He can be reached via this periodical with news tips, letters to the editor and legal threats. 

Related Posts

One thought on “Northgate redevelopment, affordable housing and bears, oh my!

Leave a Reply