The Napa Pipe project will live to see another day — up to 120 more days, to be precise.
In the project’s first hearing before the Napa County Board of Supervisors on Monday afternoon at the Napa Valley Opera House, the board voiced unanimous support for delaying a decision on the application for another four months to give time for the county to negotiate with the city of Napa.
Residents packed the Opera House to near capacity during the public comment portion of the hearing, but the crowd had dwindled by the time the supervisors reached their decision.
The crux of the negotiations will focus on the city providing water to the project in exchange for an agreement on revenue sharing, future project entitlements, providing services, and a plan for annexing the site within city limits.
County staff will be back before the board on Feb. 5 with an update, but a final decision on the application likely won’t come until May 14. The supervisors voted 4-1 on these dates, with Supervisor Mark Luce voting no. They also voted unanimously to certify the project’s environmental impact report.
If the goal of Monday’s hearing was to bring city officials back to the negotiating table, it succeeded. Mayor Jill Techel spoke before the board and said the city is willing “to commit to a process” that could lead to an agreement.
Whether the hearing was needed to accomplish this at all is a separate question — elected officials in the city government have publicly expressed a willingness to negotiate for weeks. But Monday’s hearing proved that a majority of supervisors are willing to support housing at the 154-acre Napa Pipe site, so long as the agreement is worked out and a path toward city services and annexation is established.
“We are so close,” Supervisor Keith Caldwell said. “We are so close to having an agreement with the city. I believe the project should be in the city.”
Without an agreement, Caldwell said “it will move forward as a county project.”
Supervisor Bill Dodd said he has doubted city officials’ statements that they were willing to negotiate. In November, both jurisdictions publicly announced an intent to broker an agreement over Napa Pipe, but those talks between city and county staff broke off soon after.
“We’ve gone two months without one conversation,” Dodd said. “That’s unbelievable. A high-level agreement with the city of Napa would be the best choice. I would like to extend the olive branch.”
On Dec. 31, Techel said the City Council had offered a standing invitation to the county to appoint two city officials to a group, with two supervisors on the other side, with the task of coming to an agreement. The board will vote Tuesday on those appointments.
Luce said he wouldn’t oppose such talks, but would not support anything greater than rezoning a 20-acre portion of the site to support 300 housing units, which is included in the county’s housing plan.
The developers have asked the Board of Supervisors to approve General Plan and zoning amendments for a 63-acre portion of the site that would be the first step in building 700 to 945 homes, a hotel, neighborhood retail, office space and a home for senior citizens. A Costco store is planned for a 17.5-acre portion of the site.
Supervisor Diane Dillon said she could support the housing, but not the hotel, believing it would infringe on a long-standing agreement with the county and the cities to keep hotels within city limits. Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht agreed with her.
The project has to have a supply of surface water, and plans at this point to get it from the city. It also had plans to use the groundwater beneath it in a conjunctive use, and as a primary source if the city was short on its own supplies. Planning Director Hillary Gitelman told the board that by the city’s estimates, it would have enough water for Napa Pipe except during single dry years.
That could present a problem in the city-county negotiations, as Caldwell, Wagenknecht and Dillon said they would not support any groundwater use for Napa Pipe.
The hearing began at 1:30 p.m. and public comment lasted for four hours as more than 60 speakers weighed in.
Developer Keith Rogal of Napa Redevelopment Partners started off by saying that the project offered Napa County an opportunity to turn a former industrial site into a positive influence in the community.
“I have complete confidence that if we have the opportunity to move forward, it will be something beautiful,” Rogal said. “It will be a positive thing for Napa. We have reached the point where we either need to move forward ... or take no for an answer and move on.”
As in past public hearings over Napa Pipe, the speakers voiced a mix of opinions supporting and opposing the project.
David Gilbreth, an attorney representing former county Supervisor Mel Varrelman, said the request to use groundwater for residential purposes in the unincorporated area represented a dangerous precedent, and urged the board to reject it.
“What this project is about is really the future and vision for Napa Valley,” Gilbreth said. “The precedent that would be created by this project would be a disaster.”
Napa resident Lowell Downey said the addition of the Costco would harm the local economy because of its mass amounts of wine sales, and predicted it would siphon sales from smaller, local merchants such as those in downtown Napa.
“I believe the local economy is in jeopardy,” Downey said. “Costco is the largest wine retailer in the country. What will happen to the small wine retailers downtown?”
Carneros resident Sharon Cunigan praised the project and the developers’ vision for the site’s future.
“I believe he’s got a brilliant project here,” Cunigan said. “I urge you to allow Keith to do what he’s so good at.”
Napa resident Carol Kay said the site is currently an eyesore to anyone passing it on Highway 29, and the Napa Pipe project would change that.
“It’s an eyesore,” Kay said. “I don’t understand how it could be left that way for so long when the rest of the valley is absolutely beautiful.”