Project’s Architecture Inspired by Base’s Design Heritage

  • Marin Independent Journal
  • September 20, 1999
  • Guy Ashley

The redevelopment of Hamilton Field in Novato may be Marin's largest-ever building project, but its designers set out to build something quite to the contrary.

What they were after was a small-town feel.

Rather than plugging the vast array of settings and styles for the project's 950 homes, project developers have worked hard to build an image of a quiet, safe stop on the road - with an identity distinct from the rest of south Novato. They see that in Marin - where hometown pride abounds in each of the half-dozen cities that straddle Highway 101 - a small town is much more appealing than another subdivision.

What makes Novato city leaders most proud is that the project conveys a small-town feel while carrying out a plan designed to preserve open space, to make public transportation convenient and to minimize the project's impact on the county's clogged roadways.

"It's a good example of responsible land-use planning," said Novato Mayor Michael DiGiorgio. "And it's a place where people are proud to live." With the appeal of living along San Pablo Bay, and a hop from Highway 101, the project is proving to be an efficient use of land, DiGiorgio says.

The project has retained some of Hamilton's Spanish-style architecture through the renovation of several base buildings that will soon be home to retail businesses and offices at the heart of the new community.

That architecture also has been the creative germ for the homes that are now springing up on the old base.

Residents of the new community also will enjoy an array of recreational facilities built for the abandoned base's military families - swimming pool, tennis courts, gymnasium, racquetball courts.

Meanwhile, in a gesture to continuity, the base's massive hangars will be converted into a 550,000-square-foot commercial complex called Hamilton Landing. And a host of other businesses is either open or preparing to open, including a hotel, a fast-food restaurant and a supermarket.

"The project was designed as a place where people could live, work, shop and play without even having to get into the car," DiGiorgio said. "The new Hamilton is designed far better than what was there before," he said, noting that environmental studies show the military base generated more traffic than what is projected from the housing development.

The Ignacio Boulevard freeway interchange is being upgraded, easing traffic worries.

And, should Marin ever decide to spring for a mass transit system, residents of the Hamilton development are likely to be big beneficiaries.

Running through the property is the old Northwestern Pacific Railroad right-of-way, long eyed as the likely route of a fixed transit system such as light rail. Local bicycle advocates would also like to lay claim to at least a portion of the right-of-way to construct what they have dubbed a bicycle "freeway" spanning the county.

DiGiorgio, who owns a video store in south Novato, says area businesses were devastated by the military base's closure.

The new development already is revitalizing the area.

"We're glad to see the people coming back," he said.