Building up to 945 homes at the Napa Pipe site took a step forward Wednesday as the Napa County Planning Commission voted to recommend the Board of Supervisors allow that.
But the larger questions of whether supervisors will allow that — and when they’ll render a decision — loomed over Wednesday’s meeting, which about 70 people attended.
The Planning Commission voted 3-2 to recommend the supervisors adopt general plan and zoning ordinance amendments that will allow between 700 and 945 homes to be built at the 154-acre site, which sits just south of the city of Napa along the east banks of the Napa River.
Commissioners Mike Basayne, Terry Scott and Bob Fiddaman voted ‘yes,’ while Commissioners Matt Pope and Heather Phillips voted ‘no.’
Their recommendation echoed one put forward by county planning staff; the site’s developers proposed building 2,050 homes.
The vote shifts the action to the Board of Supervisors, which has pledged to tackle the issue this year, and possibly as soon as mid June. The county is working to find space for the meeting to accommodate the large number of people expected to attend.
The board will vote whether or not to adopt those general plan and zoning ordinance amendments.
Supervisor Bill Dodd said at a candidate forum last month that he favored the 700-945 home proposal, while Supervisor Mark Luce said he supports a 350-home plan included in the county’s housing element. Luce said that option is unlikely to be built, but is needed to prevent the state from putting those housing units in the county’s next housing cycle, which begins in 2014.
Supervisor Keith Caldwell said at the forum that he still needed to make a decision. Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht has been opposed to the project, while Diane Dillon has raised skepticism about it. Wagenknecht and Dillon voted in 2007 against putting the project to environmental review.
Scott, Basayne and Fiddaman had previously pledged to support housing at the site at the commission’s last meeting April 2, although they differed in the amounts.
On Wednesday, Fiddaman said he favored the developers’ proposal of 2,050, but eventually changed his position to get a consensus majority vote with Basayne and Scott.
Scott said the project represented an opportunity to replace a blighted industrial site with residential units that are needed in Napa County now and will be needed in the future.
Opponents of the project have criticized it for planning to use the groundwater beneath it, which runs contrary to the county’s general plan. They contend it could set a precedent for future groundwater use in the county.
Scott said the opportunity outweighed the concerns, and said it could become a model for housing in the Bay Area.
“That opportunity is greater than any risks or concerns I may hold,” Scott said. “We’re talking about the Napa that our children and grandchildren will live in. I hope there is a place for them.”
Fiddaman also dismissed the concerns on groundwater use, saying the supply has been used for more than 100 years for industrial purposes. He also didn’t believe it would set any kind of a precedent because the groundwater is underneath the site. A precedent would be set in allowing the developers to obtain groundwater that wasn’t beneath the site.
“The positives so far outweigh the negatives,” Fiddaman said.
Basayne said county staff and consultants hired to work on the project had allayed any concerns about it. He said building homes there would alleviate pressure to develop other areas of the county, such as the Agricultural Preserve.
Further, he said his vote wouldn’t sway on the news that the county’s latest regional housing needs allocation had plummeted, possibly to 74 units in the next cycle. The county’s allocation during this current cycle has been more than 600 units.
“... Some development will be needed to meet our county’s housing needs,” Basayne said. “This project embraces common sense and responsible growth.”
Phillips disagreed with that in explaining her decision to oppose the project, and said that it was no longer needed.
“The county is not in the business of building houses,” Phillips said.
Phillips said she preferred development occur within the city of Napa when it’s determined to be needed.
Pope said he also preferred to keep housing developments within the cities of Napa and American Canyon, which he said are adopting planning principles that would create the kind of dense, walkable neighborhoods the Napa Pipe project embodies. He also said he was concerned with its traffic impacts, how it would exceed the county’s growth limits and how it would use groundwater.
“We are essentially placing a new bedroom community north of American Canyon,” Pope said.
This story has been modified since its original posting to correct the commissioners previous stated positions on the project.