Hamilton Residents Enjoy Community Feel

  • Marin Independent Journal
  • May 1, 1999
  • Donna Domino

For Liz Feingold, the best thing about living at Hamilton is that her children are a five-minute bike ride from their school.

They thought car pooling was the only way to get to school, says Feingold, whose family is among the 100 founding families to move into new developments at the former military base.

Before the family moved from its Corte Madera townhouse in August, getting daughter, Atlee, 10, and son, Spence, 7, to school involved a 20-minute car ride.

It just seems more like the way I grew up, instead of spending so much time in the car, Feingold observed while making Christmas cookies this week with her children.

Her husband, Dave, said neighbors are in the holiday spirit, hosting parties for one another. By having new neighbors move in, getting the neighborhood going, that's the nicest Christmas present this year, he said.

He added there's a sense of renewal at the base during its first holiday season as a neighborhood.

Some streets are a mix of construction sites and new houses. There are wreaths at the doors of a few homes, while other houses, whose occupants are all unpacked, are fully adorned with lights and decorations.

A sense of community, small-town atmosphere. That's the idea behind the new Hamilton, Novato officials say.

And to hear residents, its not just sales rhetoric but a reality that is repeated again and again while talking about their new home.

When you cross that bridge (past Hamilton's arched entrance), you feel like you're entering a new world, says Reema McBade, 28, who moved into a home in the Bayside development on Thanksgiving Day. My husband, Glenn, keeps saying. This is our little community.

McBade, whose modern, highly stylized living room resembles a magazine layout, says the couple did a lot of research before moving from their Sausalito rental. Because of Marin's high prices, they looked for a home in Petaluma, but decided the commute to Reema's job in San Francisco was too far.

After visiting the Hamilton information center two years ago, they got on a waiting list. And while their home was being built, Glenn was here almost every single day making sure everything was in order, Reema recalled.

They say that especially as a young couple they are very fortunate to have a home in the county.

We wake up every morning in awe to be first-time buyers and to be in Marin, McBade says. We both grew up in Marin, so this is where our roots are. It's exciting.

They all appreciate Hamilton's convenient location: Its close to Highway 101, the Marin Airporter just opened a terminal nearby, and both the Northgate and Vintage Oaks shopping centers are a few exits away. And a shuttle is planned to get to the theater, cultural center, pool and other facilities that are envisioned for the former base.

Liz Feingold's husband has already used the new airporter terminal, daughter Atlee has gone to the Little League batting clinic at the recreational facility, and the children took swimming lessons last summer at the pool.

Everything is so accessible, Feingold says. We love it the whole concept of what they want to make here a village, a small town. I like the idea of a new community because we have kids.

Also, Coast Guard families who have been living at Hamilton have gone out of their way to make friends with newcomers, Feingold says. They have been really welcoming, she said. They've been a big part of making us feel right at home.

Novatos ambitious reuse plan for the area includes more than 2,000 homes (including new houses, townhouses and renovated military housing), converting the old base runway into a 700-acre wetland, tennis courts, ball fields, artists studios and a bed-and-breakfast inn.

A Lucky market, Courtyard by Marriott hotel and McDonalds restaurant are being built nearby.

The bases seven massive hangars have just been sold to a San Francisco developer, who plans to convert them into a 550,000-square-foot commercial complex called Hamilton Landing.

Despite Novatos normally hot summers, Hamiltons proximity to the bay makes it a lot cooler, Feingold says. When we moved in, it was during that horrible heat wave in August, but my car thermostat went down about eight degrees from the highway to my house, Feingold says. There's a noticeable difference from the cool breezes off the bay.

For Masayo Dolan, 42, who moved into a Bayside home this month after husband, Thomas, retired from the Coast Guard, Hamiltons reasonable prices were part of their decision to buy.

Where else can you buy a new four-bedroom, 1,800-square-foot home with front and back yard in Marin? Even $500,000 homes are old and need to be fixed up.

Homes similar to hers are already selling for $20,000 more than they paid, Dolan said. For being one of the 100 founding families, buyers got lower home prices.

We absolutely love this place, McBade says. This is the American dream.