Novato is looking to augment its status as a North Bay biotechnology hub under a proposal that could double the footprint of its life sciences campus near Bel Marin Keys.
The city’s biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors have continued to expand since 1997 at the Novato Industrial Park, the site of companies such as Ultragenyx, BioMarin, Sutter Instrument, Karuna Corp., Raptor Pharmaceuticals and Marin Biologic Laboratories.
City officials and a group of companies have been working since 2016 to plan for further expansion in the 200-acre campus along northbound Highway 101 near Ignacio Boulevard. A proposal set to go before the City Council on May 24 would allow for larger, taller warehouses, laboratories, offices and manufacturing buildings than currently allowed.
More than 22% of the industrial park, or about 575,000 square feet, is used by biotechnology and life sciences companies. The plan would allow for 300,000 square feet of expansion in the industrial park — and possibly up to 500,000 square feet if traffic issues can be addressed.
“For us, it’s great news because it acknowledges we’re in a place where biotechnology and these campuses are taking off,” said Kirit Patel, director of business development at Marin Biologic Laboratories. “It encourages innovation and it brings more people into the community because there will be jobs created.”
The Novato Planning Commission voted unanimously Monday to recommend that the City Council approve the plan.
“We’re uniquely situated in Novato to accommodate and really foster this kind of development,” said Curtis Havel, a member of the commission. “It’s an opportunity that I think benefits the city and it’s in a location that will not result in any significant impacts to the environment.”
One of the Ultragenyx buildings stands at the end of Leveroni Court in the Bel Marin Keys industrial park in Novato on Friday, May 13, 2022. (Alan Dep/Marin Independent Journal)
City regulations limit how large and how much floor area company buildings can use. The plan would allow these companies to expand their footprint either by creating more facilities or taller buildings. Building height limits would be increased to 68 feet, with an additional 8 feet allowed for rooftop installments.
The city would allow for a maximum of 500,000 square feet of additional expansion with these larger developments. The plan would only affect the Hamilton and Ignacio sections of the industrial park. The southern section, known as the Bel Marin Industrial Park, would not be included because of its proximity to the Los Robles Mobile Home Park.
However, city staff said the more realistic expansion limit would be around 300,000 square feet because of potentially significant traffic issues that could result beyond that area of expansion.
As part of an environmental review of the plan, city staff projected that the increased employment and business activity resulting from a larger expansion would result in significantly increased traffic flow in the area because of increased employment and business activity.
The models found that any expansion beyond 300,000 square feet would require large-scale changes to the Ignacio Boulevard interchange at Highway 101, including widening the turn pockets and ramps and signal changes, many of which would require approval from Caltrans.
“Too much traffic would require significant mitigation in the form of signalization or reworking of those intersections, which might just not be practical,” said Sean Kennings, a city consultant who helped draft the plan.
Companies that would look to expand would be required to reduce vehicle trips by 10%, which could come in the form of carpools, rideshare services, electric vehicle parking requirements and installation of bicycle racks, Kennings said.
The companies would also be required to install equipment to reduce odor impacts.
Representatives of Ultragenyx and BioMarin, along with other organizations such as the Novato Chamber of Commerce and the North Bay Leadership Council, endorsed the plan this week.
“We have seen ourselves grow as part of the fabric of the community for the past 25 years,” Shar Zamanpour, BioMarin’s campus planning director, told the Planning Commission. “Many of our employees live in Novato. Many of our service providers are local in the community. Our employees enjoy the local restaurants, shops and other services and that will grow with the growth of biotech and BioMarin in Novato and further strengthen the local economy.”
“As you are well aware, Novato Industrial Park is home to several global life science companies that make a major impact on the lives of individuals throughout the world,” Coy Smith, chief executive officer of the Novato Chamber of Commerce, wrote in a letter to the commission.
“As these demands grow, this approval will give these tax bearing companies the opportunity to expand in mindful ways that will meld into the master plan of the community,” he said. “It will also keep employees living and spending hard earned money here within the city.”