Novato Advances Biotech Campus Expansion Plan
Novato is seeking to bolster its status as North Bay’s biotech hub under a proposal that could double the footprint of its life sciences campus near the Bel Marin Keys.
The city’s biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors have continued to grow since 1997 in 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 businesses have been working since 2016 to plan a new 200-acre campus expansion along the northbound 101 Freeway near Ignacio Boulevard. A proposal to be submitted to city council on May 24 would allow for larger and taller warehouses, laboratories, offices and manufacturing buildings than those currently permitted.
More than 22% of the industrial park, or approximately 575,000 square feet, is used by biotechnology and life science companies. The plan would allow for a 300,000 square foot expansion in the industrial park – and possibly as much as 500,000 square feet if traffic issues can be resolved.
“For us, this is great news because it recognizes that we are 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.”
Novato’s planning commission voted unanimously on Monday to recommend that city council approve the plan.
“We are ideally located in Novato to welcome and really foster this type of development,” said commissioner Curtis Havel. “It’s an opportunity that I believe benefits the city and is in a location that won’t have a significant impact on the environment.”
Municipal regulations limit the size and floor space of company buildings. The plan would allow these companies to expand their footprint 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 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 due to its proximity to the Los Robles Mobile Home Park.
However, city staff said the most realistic expansion limit would be around 300,000 square feet due to potentially significant traffic issues that could arise beyond that expansion area.
As part of an environmental review of the plan, city staff predicted that the increased employment and business activity resulting from greater expansion would cause a significant increase in traffic in the area due to increased employment and business activity.
Models revealed that any expansion beyond 300,000 square feet would require large-scale modifications to the Ignacio Boulevard interchange on Highway 101, including widening turns and ramps and signage changes, including many would require Caltrans approval.
“Too much traffic would require significant mitigation in the form of signage or redesigning of these intersections, which just might not be practical,” said Sean Kennings, a city consultant who has helped write the plan.
Businesses looking to expand would be required to reduce vehicle travel by 10%, which could take the form of carpooling, ride-sharing services, electric vehicle parking requirements and the installation of bike racks, Kennings said.
Companies would also be required to install equipment to reduce odor impacts.
Representatives from 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 growing into the fabric of the community over the past 25 years,” Shar Zamanpour, director of campus planning for BioMarin, told the Planning Commission. “Many of our employees live in Novato. Many of our service providers are local to the community. Our employees enjoy local restaurants, stores and other services and this will grow with the growth of Biotechnology and BioMarin in Novato and further strengthen the local economy.
“As you well know, Novato Industrial Park is home to several global life science companies that have a major impact on the lives of individuals around the world,” wrote Coy Smith, CEO of the Novato Chamber of Commerce, in a letter. to the commission.
“As these demands increase, this approval will give these taxable businesses the opportunity to grow in a conscious way that will blend into the community’s master plan,” he said. “It will also allow employees to live and spend hard-earned money right here in the city.”