The planners of a west Napa condominium project are proclaiming three goals – to leave a light footprint, to shorten local workers’ commutes, and possibly turn renters into homeowners within a decade.

Napa Creek Village, a 48-unit, 2.5-acre development planned for 2614 First St., received Planning Commission approval on a 4-0 vote Thursday night, with Gordon Huether absent.

Support from the City Council, which is expected to vote on the project next month, would give the green light to a condo complex its developer hopes will become an example for environmental friendliness, water conservation and even affordable home ownership in one of California’s priciest counties.

“This is designed to be a model for this kind of community at least across California, if not the United States,” the applicant Bob Massaro, representative of Thriving Communities Napa Valley LLC, told planning commissioners. “It’s really, really important to our bigger goals that this project is a success.”

In his presentation, Massaro outlined the efficiencies he said Napa Creek Village would offer in its buildings and landscaping.

“Living walls” of climbing plants would cover the sides of condo buildings, cutting heat exposure and the air conditioning requirements, and the complex would include rainwater capture systems, he said. Napa Creek Village also will include charging stations for electric vehicles, community food gardens, and rooftop solar panels intended to nearly zero out residents’ electric bills, Massaro told commissioners.

All outdoor lighting would be of the energy-efficient LED variety and would self-dim when people are absent, and outdoor plantings would be sustained by drip rather than spray irrigation in order to reduce water use by at least half, according to Chris Hedberg, the project’s landscape architect.

Massaro also proposed offering tenants a rent-to-own plan that would enable them to take over their residences on the project’s conversion to condominiums after 10 years, though he did not offer details of the financing.

In addition, he promised to pitch residences mainly to those already working in Napa but driving from homes outside the city, calling the shortening of commutes a major goal.

“If we had a choice of two candidates and one worked in American Canyon and the other in Napa, we’d give preference to the one in Napa,” he told the commission.

While Commissioner Arthur Roosa questioned the legality of such a step, Massaro also suggested promoting the development to local businesses and service organizations – “making it known that not only does (the complex) exist, but that we really want to get people off the roads,” he said.

Despite the development’s amenities and eco-friendly design, one longtime resident worried about the effects of adding four dozen condos to a strip of land with no play structures – in a complex whose developers also plan to allow pets.

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“How many pets will there be? Do the math, gentlemen,” said Larry Cline, a retired landscape contractor who has lived near the site for 30 years. “Children and animals, where are they going to recreate? Let’s be real.”

Cline also objected to a proposed split-rail fence facing Napa Creek, which he called insufficient to protect its plant life and the steelhead that in recent years have returned to its waters.

Massaro replied that Thriving Communities will ask the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to accept a sturdier design than the split-rail, a design that is meant to allow animals wandering across it to return to the other side.

A mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units on three stories – ranging from 536 to 1,211 square feet – would occupy eight of the condo development’s nine buildings.

The developer estimated project costs at $15 million to $17 million, with 30 percent from “impact investors” who specialize in environmentally conscious projects.

Plans submitted to the city call for the homes to be rentals for 10 years after completion before tenants are given a chance to buy their units. During the rental period, two units would be affordable to those earning no more than the local median income, five for those making less than 80 percent of that level, and one for a household earning less than 60 percent.

In 2007, another developer proposed a 50-unit townhouse project on the site, but the Planning Commission at that time said it was too dense for the deep, rectangular lot.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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