Kevin Courtney

Napa Valley Register City Editor Kevin Courtney.

J.L. Sousa, Register

My west Napa neighborhood is as quiet as they come. That’s why last week’s letter arrived like a bombshell.

In a message of few words, a developer put us on notice that a 12-home subdivision is planned for the end of our dead end street.

Cheryl scanned the letter and immediately went negative. There goes our domestic tranquility.

My reaction was more measured, if not weird. As a newsman, I would have a rare personal stake in the outcome of a housing proposal. This should be interesting.

I’ve sat through hundreds of housing hearings at City Hall. Often it’s a developer facing off against neighbors who are resistant to change. Charges of NIMBYism are thrown around.

It’s not NIMBYism, the neighbors always say. It’s traffic safety, it’s the environment.

Now I would be put to the NIMBY test. How high-minded would I be?

Eager to jump in, I called up the developer’s rep, Randy Gularte of Heritage Sotheby’s International Realty. I’m doing a column about you and your project, I said.

Randy and I go way back. I’ve covered dozens of his presentations to the Planning Commission and City Council. He’s always been a straight-shooter who speaks with emotion.

I laid out the Courtney perspective. The construction of 12 houses would likely more than double the number of vehicles that whiz past our house each day. To make things worse, our bedroom faces the street. How are we supposed to sleep?

I half expected Randy to say “boo-hoo, poor Kevin.”

He managed to restrain himself.

Randy assured me that his project will be more than lovely while adhering to the city’s General Plan and zoning guidelines.

He described a cluster of million-dollar, “urban farmhouse-style” homes on half-acre lots served by a narrowed “country lane” appropriate for a project on the city’s western edge.

This will be “one of the more exclusive neighborhoods coming on the market in the next few years,” Randy said. And since we own a nearby house of “lower value,” we would get a price boost when we sell. His project’s air of exclusivity would rub off on us.

Put another way, what’s to complain about? Having large-lot, rich-person housing come to my streets would have its tangible benefits.

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I filed that thought away. I was more concerned about the now. On our out-of-the-way street we enjoy minimal traffic, hill views, a vineyard across the street. And thanks to a recent city paving job, our asphalt is perfect.

Twelve new homes will clog things, I said. Construction vehicles will tear up the street. The new folks on safari in their Range Rovers may not notice a few new bumps, but we will.

Randy did not consider my objection worthy of comment. He tried to refocus me on a political reality. Better to accept a project of half-acre lots today lest the City Council someday increase densities as a way of cramming more people into a city with locked-in boundaries, he said.

This is an argument he said he will use with the folks on Broadmoor Drive and Stanford Court. For years they have enjoyed looking out on an open field. Now that open field is about to sprout houses. This tends to upset people, he said.

That night I shared my Randy conversation with Cheryl. I talked about the city’s General Plan and the price of the new homes and how our place could someday be worth a lot more.

And, in a twisted way, we’ll be doing our small part to solve the Bay Area’s housing crisis.

Uncharacteristically, Cheryl fell silent. She moved onto the street 40 years ago when it was real country. She kept chickens and raised children who roamed far and wide.

Yes, the street has gentrified in recent years and a fancy subdivision may be what the times call for.

But that didn’t mean she had to like it.

Kevin can be reached at 707-256-2217 or Napa Valley Register, 1615 Soscol Ave., Napa, 94559, or kcourtney@napanews.com.

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