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Costco: Northgate Mall

APN: 175-060-40
Address: Northgate Mall, Corner of Northgate Dr &
Las Gallinas Ave
Project Numbers: CDR19-004/ PA19-008
Applicant: Costco Wholesale Corporation, Michael Okuma
(714) 978-5023
Costco Proposed Entry

Project Description

Costco has applied for a Pre Application and Conceptual Design Review for their proposal to demolish the existing multi story Sears building along with the two out buildings (former Sears catalog building and automotive center building) at the southern portion of Northgate Mall.  In it’s place, Costco is proposing to build a new 146,958 sq ft Costco Warehouse Center, including a 141,773 sq ft warehouse, 5,185 sq ft attached tire center, along with a detached fueling station. The proposal also calls for 2-3 levels of rooftop parking on top of the proposed Costco warehouse. The Pre Application process has been completed.

Public Comments

To view all public comments received through January 6, 2020, please click here. As comments are received they will be periodically added to the Public Comments page.

Current Status (3/9/2020)

The Pre Application and Conceptual review processes were completed in October 2019 and no further City action will occur on this project.  The applicant has indicated they are taking a pause to analyze the City, outside agency and public feedback received during the preliminary process and decide whether to proceed with the project, and if so, how to proceed.  The next steps, should Costco choose to purse this project, are is listed below in the Frequently Asked Questions section.

If a formal application is submitted to the City, this web page will be updated and we will use the interested parties list (in the “stay informed section” below) to pass on any updates if we receive a formal application.

The Pre Application process allows an applicant to receive: 1) preliminary feedback from the City, including code requirements, 2) capacity review from utility providers, and 3) roadmap for any subsequent permits or processes required by the City to process the formal application.

In addition, the Conceptual Design Review is a process required by the City for major projects to have preliminary design level plans reviewed by the City’s Design Review Board (DRB) before they are developed too far.  The purpose is for the City through a public process to provide preliminary feedback on the proposed design direction.

The City's Planning Commission (PC) reviewed the preliminary application on Tuesday, October 15, 2019  and  provided the following comments:

  • No PC support for gas component of the project (unanimous)
  • Really need a master plan to understand what is planned for rest of mall, how this project would impact that and what that would do to housing potential
  • Confirmed the main Costco retail use and tire center are consistent with the current Master Use Permit, but not as designed (lack of integration with mall, circulation issues, height/bulk/mass)
  • Need for data to support the benefits to the community and support claims that Costco will bring shoppers to mall
  • Concern with the increased height (Exception findings) more than current Sear footprint which results in bulk and mass coming so close to Northgate Dr
  • Need for better integration of the Costco with rest of Mall
  • Concern with on-site circulation access as noted by staff
  • Need project to better respect the design and character of surrounding area.
  • Project is solely designed for car access and needs to pay attention to pedestrians
  • Ensure that traffic study is comprehensive and extends to greater are than just around mall

The DRB reviewed the conceptual design on Tuesday, October 22, 2019. The DRB provided the following primary comments

  • Reduce the scale of the project (i.e., height, lot coverage, etc.) so that it is closer in size to the existing Sears buildings and takes into consideration the lower scale of both the adjacent residential neighborhood and the existing Mall. Making the height Exception findings will be difficult.
  • Improve the pedestrian circulation around the project and connecting to the Mall by relocating or eliminating the fuel station element, and converting the proposed new driveway between the project and Mall to pedestrian only
  • Improve the visual connection to the mail by incorporating some of the existing material palette i.e., (more stone, less concrete).
  • Eliminate tall wall sections by Increasing articulation along all or portions of all elevations, particularly along the south and north elevations.

Please see the City Public Meetings Page for meeting minutes and staff reports.

Frequently Asked Questions

On July 26, 2019, Costco filed a Pre Application and Conceptual Design Review application with the City of San Rafael. For major projects, the City requires the submittal of a Conceptual Design Review as a first step to allow the public and the City’s Design Review Board an opportunity to provide early comments on a preliminary plan/concept. The requirement for Conceptual Review was initiated in 2005 as a means to allow both the public and the City early input on a project, before plans are fully developed. It is meant to allow an applicant to hear both public and City comments on a project before fully developing required plans and materials. As a Conceptual Review, plans are preliminary in nature and are not as fully developed as would be required for formal submittal. In addition, technical studies (i.e. reports on traffic, air quality, etc) required for formal submittal are not submitted during conceptual review.

Conceptual Design Review involves a public meeting with the DRB. Conceptual Design Review is meant to provide an informal critique and evaluation of a project’s basic design approach.  It gives the DRB an opportunity to work together with the applicant to achieve a quality project.  The Board will identify relevant issues and significant concerns, and provide comments on the appropriateness of the conceptual design and its compliance with design review criteria and guidelines. No binding decisions are made as a result

Given the public interest in this project, the City has also suggested that the Planning Commission review the Conceptual Design Review application in order to weigh in on land use matters,  (ie. noise, traffic, parking, appropriateness and compatibility) before the project is further developed

The Planning Commission meeting on the Conceptual application is scheduled for October 15, 2019. The Commission’s focus is on land use matters (ie traffic, noise, parking, land use compatibility).

The Design Review Board meeting on the Conceptual application is scheduled for October 22, 2019. The DRB’s purview is solely on design matters, so comments should be related to design, such as site plan, architecture, bulk and mass, colors and material, landscaping, etc. ion.

The Conceptual Review and Pre Application process have been completed and comments from city staff, the Design Review Board and Planning Commission and the public being forwarded to the applicant. So, there is no further action on the part of the city, unless we receive a formal application. At this point, the decision to pursue the project is for Costco/Northgate Mall to make and if they do, if and how they want propose the revise the plans.

If the applicant decides to pursue the project, their next step would be to formally submit any required applications to the City for formal review. At this point, a Major Design Review Permit, Master Use Permit amendment and Sign Program amendment would be required. Submittal of formal applications would include more detailed, plans and all require technical studies.  In addition, the City will review the project for compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and determine if the project is exempt from CEQA or prepare an Initial Study and Negative Declaration, mitigated Declaration or Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The City’s Design Review Board and Planning Commission will hold public hearings on any formal applications filed

At this point, we will not update this site, until we receive a formal application, or indication that one will be filed.

At the time of submittal of formal applications, the City requires a complete traffic study to be prepared by a licensed traffic engineer. The traffic study will be reviewed by the City’s traffic engineer, along with a 3rd party traffic engineer hired by the City.

The traffic study will evaluate the generation, distribution of all vehicular trips and analyze addition of the new trips on nearby roadway segments and intersections. The current standard used for evaluating significance of traffic impacts is Level of Service (LOS) standards, which is the seconds of delay at signalized intersections.  The City’s current General Plan identifies LOS standards for both AM (weekdays 7-9am) and PM peak hours (weekdays 4-6pm).  The traffic study will also look at traffic safety in relation to pedestrians and bicycles.

Although not yet required by State law, the traffic study will also evaluate the project in terms of Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT), a new methodology established by the State to be used as the metric for evaluating traffic in CEQA documents, starting in July 2020.

The traffic study will evaluate existing traffic conditions, along with previously approved, but not yet built projects, including the recently approved Northgate Walk and other approved, but not yet built projects in North San Rafael.

Costco and Merlone Geier (owner of Northgate Mall) have applied for a Conceptual Review/Pre Application to solicit preliminary feedback from the City and the public for a Costco at this location. This is not a city-sponsored project, therefore the City does not decide where to propose new projects.  The applicants have applied for this proposal on their property and the City will evaluate the proposal for consistency with the City’s General Plan and Zoning Ordinance and evaluate whether the proposed project is consistent with the current City regulations required for this site.

The current zoning for the property does allow housing, in addition to commercial development. The Mall ownership has not proposed housing at this time.  The owner of the Mall, Merlone Geier has indicated that housing is still an option that they will consider in the future. At this time, the mall ownership is focused on stabilizing the commercial viability of the mall to ensure it’s long term economic viability and the Costco application is the first step.

The City does not have any criteria for over concentration of land uses, like gas stations. The current zoning for the mall property (General Commercial), allows gas stations in the zone, subject to a Conditional Use Permit. The appropriateness of a gas station and evaluation of any potential impacts will be considered through the public review process.

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