One of the newest hotel proposals to arrive in Napa may present one of the city core’s prettiest faces. What city leaders need to decide is whether that façade fits within its would-be surroundings.
The 66-room, four-story Foxbow received a first look Thursday from the Planning Commission, a year and a half after developers floated plans for the development in Napa’s Oxbow district. Even as planners praised its design, they asked its would-be creators and themselves how many more rooms should join the growing number of lodgings that have transformed the downtown area, with more on the way.
Planning staff already had asked Napa’s land-use authority to be mindful of placing new multistory attractions amid the low-rise homes and shops that traditionally filled the Oxbow, and some commissioners took that advice to heart.
“It basically blocks any (chance) to see Copia or the Oxbow market,” Michael Murray said of the hotel’s possible effect on the streetscape and the district’s main attractions. “It gives a vision that the hotel is the only thing that is there.”
Though the debate was an early step in Napa’s evaluation of Foxbow – with no vote taken or scheduled – it highlighted the possible challenges in reconciling the tourism that increasingly drives the local economy with the desire to keep a neighborhood’s character and scale.
Introduced in August 2016 by the Napa developer J.B. Leamer, Foxbow would comprise two buildings – each containing 33 guest rooms – flanking the Napa Valley Wine Train rails at First and Water streets and Soscol Avenue. It would become an anchor in a neighborhood increasingly targeted by tourists during the past decade with the opening of the Oxbow Public Market and the revival of the Copia food-and-wine exhibition center.
Both halves of Foxbow would house central atriums and street-level retail spaces, and the west building also would include a spa and gym, with meeting and conference areas planned for the east building. Two-level underground parking in each structure would accommodate a total of 118 vehicles.
Concrete boards, wood siding and metal would comprise the exteriors, which are to be topped by corrugated metal roofs. Yellow awnings would shade storefronts along Soscol and First, and the buildings would be equipped with balconies for each suite and terraces for fourth-floor units and the roofs.
Napa architect Casey Hughes called the design an attempt to combine attention to detail with a size less imposing than at other downtown hotels.
“We think a smaller hotel, a casually elegant building, is the right thing for Napa – a point of interest between the Oxbow and downtown,” he told city planners. “We think this can contribute to a lively and elegant downtown.”
The site, however, also lies close to properties already targeted for hotel development in Napa’s thriving vacation market. City planners last year approved another four-story hotel, the Black Elk, on the opposite side of First Street, and the Wine Train has announced plans for its own hotel on the site of its rail depot on McKinstry Street – a building that also faces the Westin Verasa.
Commercial buildings reaching the district’s 60-foot height maximum are an ill fit to the neighborhood, argued Napa resident Linda Kerr.
“I’m not opposed to its vision and its architecture; I just don’t believe it belongs in this location,” she said, describing the Foxbow as more a wall than a gateway on First Street. “… I don’t believe we need more hotels; what we do need is downtown housing. Oxbow is a laid-back, scaled-down version of downtown, and it works quite well that way.”
Elizabeth McKinne was more direct, asking for a moratorium on new hotel projects and calling on Napa to preserve more of its older architecture. “We have a four-story hotel, proposed next to a four-story hotel that’s already been approved, where there should be no four-story hotels at all,” she told commissioners.
Despite such worries – and despite much of the plan remaining in flux – Commissioner Alex Myers declared he accepts the Oxbow’s modern-day role as a tourist target as a fait accompli, and that future buildings shouldn’t be ruled out based on height alone.
“The Oxbow to me is a tourism-oriented district,” said Myers, who also described the building plans for the Foxbow as “a very high-level design.” “On First Street, height doesn’t strike me as a concern. Heights in this area have been gradually increasing, and I don’t necessarily consider it inappropriate.”
Of more concern to Myers than the size of a new hotel building was the question of how to create housing for those who would work there, a preoccupation shared by the other planners amid Napa’s steadily rising rents and home prices.
Leamer, the applicant, did not immediately disclose any housing-related plans but told city staff he is seeking some solution “that does more good than paying a fee,” referring to the payments large-scale builders place into a Napa fund for affordable housing.
As the city and developer continue refining the hotel’s design and layout, work also remains in laying claim to the land it will occupy. Foxbow’s eastern wing requires land currently held by the Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, which has not yet granted an easement for the project.
Less than 24 hours after Vallerga’s Market announced that it will be closing its Redwood Plaza store — the last outlet in a family-owned chain that was once the pride of Napa — loyal customers voiced their laments on social media and while shopping.
“It’s devastating,” but not unexpected, Dorothy Tchelistcheff said Friday morning.
“I knew it was probably in the works,” Tchelistcheff said. She has been shopping at Vallerga’s Market stores since moving to Napa in 1970. “It’s a favorite place to come to.”
She and other customers had high accolades for the store’s produce selection, meat department and friendly service.
Angela Perdigao cooks often and shops at Vallerga’s Market at least three days a week. On Friday, the Napa native was “loading up on vegetables.”
“This is what’s amazing about Vallerga’s – you tell me what other store is going to do this for you,” she said, recounting when, in January, she was looking for rhubarb before it was in season and, knowing that she had asked about it on a prior visit, an employee approached her and told her that it would be there in two weeks.
The store is a part of Napa culture, Perdigao said. “We’ve been shopping here forever.”
The Redwood Plaza store is closing March 31, 71 years after founder Joe Vallerga opened his first grocery on First Street. Vallerga’s once had a chain of four groceries as well as liquor stores before it began contracting.
Chris Vallerga Burns, daughter of founder Joe Vallerga, said Thursday that the grocery industry had become more competitive, making it hard for an independent to survive. The Redwood Plaza store, which opened in 1962, has 54 employees.
Joan Oliver has a history with the store, too. She remembers going to the family’s produce stand as a little girl and buying corn for 10 cents an ear from founder Joe Vallerga’s father, Giuseppe Vallerga.
“I started with Vallerga’s in 1947 when they first opened their store,” Oliver said.
Although she does shop at other stores, Oliver said that she gets things at Vallerga’s that she can’t find at other stores like the cracker bread she uses to make hors d’oeuvres with or the Jell-O Instant Lemon Pudding that she makes cookies with.
“There are things you get here that you can’t get other places,” she said. “Where is everyone going to get their Willie Bird Turkeys?”
Before the store closes at the end of the month, Oliver said she may try to stock up on a few of her favorite things and freeze them.
“It’s just sad,” she said. “It’s like the passing of an era … It’s an old friend, so you hate to see it go.”
“I love this store,” Celinda Bergquist said. She knew the store might close, but she didn’t realize it was going to be so soon. She has a $50 gift card given to her at Christmas from her employer – a tradition that will be no more – and only until the end of the month to use it, she said.
“They have food, unique stuff,” she said. “Their sandwiches are the best.”
By Friday afternoon, the store’s Facebook announcement about closing had received 710 reactions, 435 comments and 403 shares.
As more than 2,200 men and women hit the pavement Sunday morning for the Napa Valley Marathon, a system of electronic tags and scanners will track their progress to the second – and help organizers find those piggybacking on the wine-country race without paying for the privilege.
The clocks, tags and displays that show the order in which marathoners are running are part of a wider effort to discourage so-called “bandits” trying to run all or part of the course unofficially and without the numbered bibs marking registered athletes.
To those organizing the Calistoga-to-Napa run, keeping out interlopers is a matter not only of fairness to other runners, but of ensuring only those who follow the rules will have their race results preserved for the future.
“If they don’t have that chip at the start, it’s not going to mean anything,” said Richard Benyo, a co-director of the Napa marathon since 1992.
Registration fees for this year’s marathon, Napa’s 40th, opened at $115 in May and gradually rose to $165 before the field was closed on Thursday. Funds help cover the support services runners require on race day, including the aid stations offering water, snacks and medical care for those brought low by injury or illness on the course.
“It taxes the aid station workers and the supplies, and it’s a liability risk because (bandits) don’t sign waivers,” Benyo said of marathon bandits.
Each bib bears not only a runner’s number in front, but an attached 5-inch-long electronic tag on the back, according to Buzz Ayola, owner of Buzzword Productions, the Napa marathon’s timekeeping contractor. Sensors mounted to ground pads and 5-foot-tall stands record the passage of runners’ tags at the Calistoga starting line and the finish at Vintage High School, as well as miles 7, 13.1 (the halfway point) and 20.
Non-paying marathoners – and those entering the course to help pace another runner, also a violation of race rules – are not the only ones who can be so detected, according to Ayola.
“About five years ago a guy brought a Napa Valley Marathon tag to the race from the year before, and we noticed it was the same number as someone else (on the course),” he recalled. “I said ‘Oh my God, this number was from last year!’ and so we disqualified them.”
“With these chips, if you bring a number from another race, my software can disregard that time. We know every chip that came across is from 2018, and from my timing company.”
A team of race marshals on bicycles watches for those trying to enter from beyond the starting line, and volunteers at aid stations along the route are instructed to watch for anyone running without a bib. Marshals are not authorized to physically restrain intruders, and the marathon relies on about two dozen California Highway Patrol officers and four Napa Police officers (for the home stretch within city limits) for security, said Benyo.
Though such an anti-bandit presence may seem less muscular than at big-city courses like the Miami Half Marathon – where a marshal repeatedly catching freeloaders was featured in a YouTube video – organizers credited the Napa marathon’s largely rural and isolated course with holding down the number of rogue participants.
“It’s not something we’ve experienced very often,” Benyo said Tuesday. “You’ve got to get up so damn early to get to the start and it’s difficult to get there (undetected) because Calistoga Police is monitoring the front end. Everybody knows everybody out there.”
“I’m a personal responsibility guy; you can’t run your race based on some moron who’s decided to cheat,” Ayola declared, adding with a laugh: “I’m not living my life based on that.”
Voters in the June 5 election will decide whether Napa County bans new personal-use heliports and airports when they vote on Measure D.
The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday had the choice of adopting the initiative or placing it on the ballot. Supervisors placed it on the ballot.
“I feel that it’s important for these votes that are changes to land use zoning to be put before the people on the ballot,” Supervisor Diane Dillon said.
The Board of Supervisors made an exception later that day, indicating it will adopt an initiative to allow Blakeley Construction to remain on agriculturally zoned land. But Dillon saw special circumstances there, including that the 56-year-old business predates agricultural preservation laws and is part of the rural community fabric.
Several speakers wanted the Board to also adopt the heliport initiative. But the Board stuck with its usual stance that citizen-driven initiatives for land use changes should go to voters.
“I think it would be a large hurdle to overcome to change that practice at this time,” Supervisor Belia Ramos said.
The measure seeks to ban new personal-use heliports, such as the type the Palmaz family is seeking on Mount George several miles east of the city of Napa. It would limit conditions under which helicopters can take off and land outside of airports for agricultural activities such as spraying.
Proponents for the new personal-use heliport ban have brought up such issues as the noise helicopters can bring to rural areas.
“I think the more we can keep the lifestyle and keep the quiet enjoyment and not make this feel like a beach on Hawaii is all the better,” resident Eve Kahn told supervisors.
Resident Robert Pursell said the Palmaz proposal has taken up hundreds of hours of county staff time that could have been spent on other issues.
“Let’s not waste another minute discussing the helicopter,” he said to supervisors. “Let’s pass this today.”
Napa County had an information report done on the heliport measure by the law firm Miller Starr Regalia. The report listed potential legal weak points, such as language that might not survive a constitutional challenge.
Attorney Scott Emblidge on behalf of backers said the ultraconservative analysis looked for every flaw somebody could possibly dream up, even flaws not supported by the text. He called the report “dangerously misleading.”
“It allows people who might want to oppose (the measure) at the ballot to say, ‘The county found this unconstitutional. Here’s the report that says, ‘unconstitutional,’ ‘taking vested rights,’ ‘vague’ and ‘ambiguous,’” Emblidge said.
The measure is one page and seeks to make a few changes to county code.
“Why the county paid for a 37-page, single-page report about an initiative that says folks should land their helicopters in airports instead of their backyards or in vineyards is beyond me,” Emblidge said.
The Miller Starr Regalia report said Napa County has permits without term limits for four personal-use heliports and airports, with one held by St. Helena Hospital Napa Valley for emergency medical services. The county in 2004 prohibited helicopter landings at wineries.