For 20 years, Napa homeowners have fought off efforts to build dozens of houses on a high hill above Old Sonoma Road and the vineyards just west of the city. Thursday night, the dispute between residents and a developer will enter its latest round – in front of the city’s Planning Commission.

Napa’s land-use authority will hear arguments for and against Napa Oaks II, a cluster of 51 single-family homes on 80 acres of cattle pastures and oak groves overlooking Old Sonoma Road and Casswall Street. A favorable review by planners could place the housing development’s future back into the hands of the City Council, which vetoed an earlier and larger version of the project in 2002 amid concerns over housing density and storm drainage.

Davidon Homes, the Walnut Creek firm behind Napa Oaks II, has shrunk the layout from its previous 83 houses and concentrated the remaining residential sites onto areas previously graded flat in the 1960s. It also plans to create two miles of trails and a small park on the grounds – all open to the public – as well as create forest protection easements to preserve as much of the surroundings as possible, Davidon’s vice president Steve Abbs told area residents during a public forum last week.

Despite such promises, opponents of Napa Oaks II have remained mostly steadfast. During the Nov. 28 forum at nearby Harvest Middle School, several people living in neighborhoods east of the site repeated longstanding concerns that hillside housing would worsen storm runoff into flood-prone streets below, as well as intrude on their privacy and increase traffic congestion.

To address worries about a higher traffic burden on Old Sonoma Road, Davidon has added a roundabout that would replace the intersection with Lilienthal Drive, which would serve as the main entrance to Napa Oaks II. Speeds would be limited to 15 mph and flashing signs would alert eastbound and westbound motorists, a step Abbs said would help reduce the danger from vehicles speeding downhill from rural Congress Valley in the west.

The debates over the housing development date to 1998, when changes in the Napa general plan rezoned the Old Sonoma Road hillside as a “resource area” requiring home lots of at least 20 acres, effectively cutting off any high-density construction.

Afterward, Davidon shrank its layout to 63 homes and promised to preserve more open space and trees, only to see the Napa council vote against the plan. The developer sued in Napa County Superior Court in 2005 to overturn the veto but lost the case two years later.

If Davidon’s latest attempt at city support succeeds, it expects to build out Napa Oaks II over about 3 ½ years and price the homes between $1.2 million and $2 million, according to Abbs.

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