Stoddard West from above

The Gasser Foundation, in conjunction with developer Burbank Housing, intends to build a 50-unit affordable housing development in south Napa. It will be called Stoddard West.

Submitted graphic

Only yards from where ground is being prepared for hundreds of market rate apartments, Napa is supporting a smaller housing development with reduced rents for all.

A 50-unit, three-story complex entirely of dwellings with below-market rents gained the Planning Commission’s endorsement Thursday. Approval came during a housing shortage that has boosted Napa rents to record heights even as a burgeoning tourist industry channels more jobs into the city.

Announced in April and known as Stoddard West for Vernice (Pat) Gasser — a daughter of the prominent Stoddard family who co-founded the Gasser Foundation in the 1980s — the project faced few hurdles among members of the city land-use authority, who praised it for putting homes within reach of more working families while not stinting on design, efficiency or workmanship.

“Clearly you’re bringing us a project that’s not only necessary, but nicely designed, comfortable and energy-efficient,” Commissioner Beth Painter told members of the Gasser Foundation team before the unanimous 4-0 vote (Gordon Huether was absent). “For me, I 100 percent agree that this is what we’ve been looking for and asking for.”

Pending a City Council approval vote expected in June, the $24 million project could break ground in 2018, according to Marianne Lim, a director of Burbank Housing Development Corp., the Santa Rosa firm partnering with the Gasser Foundation on Stoddard West. Key to the project’s finances is an application for a federal 9 percent tax credit on low-income housing construction, she said.

All dwellings at Stoddard West would be offered at rents affordable to families earning less than 60 percent of Napa’s median income, a level that Gasser housing consultant Cassandra Walker said would set the cutoff at about $52,000 a year at current levels. Rents for qualifying households would range between $458 and $1,748 per month, depending on family size and income.

Stoddard West would occupy a long, narrow 2.36-acre site north of the South Napa Marketplace and Tulocay Creek, along an extension of Gasser Drive currently under construction. Farther west is the much larger 20-acre property where the Gasser Foundation, owner of both locations, is teaming up with a private developer for Vista Tulocay Apartments, which are expected to house at least 282 households and eventually as many as 483.

A 42-foot-tall, L-shaped building – sheathed in stucco and metal and with solar panels atop the shed-style roof – would contain 15 one-bedroom units, 20 with two bedrooms and 15 with three bedrooms. Plans filed with the city include a courtyard, community garden, playground, community room and bicycle room – this last to take advantage of the nearby Napa Valley Vine Trail.

One hundred parking spaces would be available, about equally split between covered and open slots. Both entrances to the complex would be from the Gasser Drive extension, which will include a new bridge south to Kansas Avenue.

Missing from Thursday’s discussion was any pushback against the apartments, which would be surrounded almost entirely by the commercial buildings of Soscol Avenue until the build-out of Vista Tulocay nearby. “No neighbors around it yet to oppose it,” quipped Grania Lindberg, one of two Napa Housing Coalition members to speak in Stoddard West’s support.

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The highest value of Stoddard West may be in a normalcy that wards off the stigma of housing for lower-income families, according to Paul Kelley, a local architect – a point of special importance when inflated rents leave locals “barely getting by” on what would be comfortable incomes almost anywhere else.

“To me, the most important piece is this: If you close your eyes and picture affordable housing projects in your mind, Gasser is starting to change the dialogue on what affordable housing look like,” he said. “This looks like any of the market-rate projects that we’ve seen.”

Stoddard West will feature the lower-cost housing absent at the nearby Vista Tulocay, which won city approval in 2016 after the Gasser Foundation paid $2 million into Napa’s affordable housing fund instead. Under an existing master plan for 80 acres of Gasser-owned land, the foundation earlier picked up the tab for the South Napa Shelter and the Hartle Court Apartments, a transitional housing center for the recently homeless and disabled.

Burbank Housing, the developer, manages more than 60 properties, including the Palisades in Calistoga.

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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.