A developer has city support to raise more than three dozen homes on a property with a commanding view east of Napa – too commanding for some neighbors’ tastes.

On 15 acres near the 1000 block of Wyatt Avenue, Davidon Homes hopes to build the Andersen Ranch subdivision, a cluster of 37 houses at the city’s edge near the Coombsville area. The project picked up an endorsement Thursday from the city’s Planning Commission, but not before hearing from nearby residents worried about the visibility of its prime lots and the loss of a rare oak-lined open space in an area surrounded by suburban homes.

The debate among planners and homeowners laid bare a tension between preserving as much of Napa’s rural character as possible – especially at the city’s borders with vineyards and woods within sight – and making the most of a shrinking supply of land for new housing.

“That’s our next-door neighbor, right on top of us, two stories and 24 feet,” Dave Wyss told planners of the effect one of the Andersen Ranch residences would have on his home of 35 years just north. “If that house goes on (that) lot, that’s totally going to destroy our property.”

In response to such worries, the commission required Davidon, a homebuilder based in Walnut Creek, to work with the city and neighbors on making one home at the property’s northeast corner less visible to those in the east and beyond the city limits. Afterward, the City Council will make a final ruling on the project.

Located west of Silverado Middle School, the Andersen Ranch site once served as a horse boarding center but has been mostly dormant for 30 years, according to city staff.

The Andersen family has owned the site for 53 years, but began partnering with Davidon on a build-out after the 2009 death of Dewey K. Andersen, a former Napa County supervisor who helped create the county’s Agricultural Preserve in 1968. A neighboring parcel the family previously sold became the Oak Leaf Ranch development, near Shurtleff Avenue and Terrace Drive.

All existing structures are to be removed to make room for the houses, which are to be built with one or two stories and in a choice of five exterior styles. The project will include eastward extensions of Wyatt Avenue and Pennyroyal Street.

Prices are expected to start just below $900,000 and reach $1 million or more for homes with more expansive views, said Steve Abbs, Davidon’s vice president for land acquisition and development. Home sizes would range from about 2,400 to 3,500 square feet.

Commissioners largely supported Davidon’s proposal, saying its density would stay well below the site’s allowable limit of about 60 homes. Some area residents like Greg Allen, a member of the Oak Leaf Ranch homeowners association, also backed the project for its inclusion of traffic-calming devices like bulb-outs extra stop signs to reduce the danger from speeding drivers.

But the reaction from other neighbors was less friendly, especially from those living on the development’s east side or near a dense stand of oaks that will be partially cut down to make room for homes. The builder has offered to plant two oaks for each of the 150 it seeks to remove, though some neighbors responded such transplants would take too long to grow into large enough buffers.

“My heart is in the Coombsville area, and we’re trying to hold onto little pocket of it that we love,” said Susan Hubbard, one of several homeowners to describe deer, turkeys and other animals crisscrossing the open land. “This is our last little bit of Coombsville, and there would be all these animals coming east, again, with nowhere else to go.”

Among those who said they would be most affected by the housing development were Alan and Jennifer Varela, who live some 1,200 feet east in the unincorporated county and told city staff at least three of the new homes will be within their view.

“We have always known the Andersen Ranch would eventually be developed,” Jennifer Varela wrote commissioners earlier in the day. “But we trusted in the Napa city ordinances to protect our rural character and the nature of the RUL (rural-urban limit) as it interfaces with larger rural and agricultural properties.”

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While not asking for Napa to block the subdivision, the Varelas urged the city to seek a redrawing of the highest east-facing properties, using trees or a lower elevation to better shield them from view.

Beloved though the open space may be, however, the Wyatt Avenue site’s zoning for residential use leaves few options for preventing the arrival of homes there, concluded Commissioner Beth Painter.

“It’s not a rezoning; we’re not changing the expectation” of its land use, she said. “We at the Planning Commission are looking at trying to build housing, and the same time we want to balance the natural habitat with our interface with the county line.”

“I know we like to build up, not out, but we’re going to build out as far as the city limits are,” added Gordon Huether. “That’s just the way it is.”

All of the commissioners voted to support the housing plans except Paul Kelley, who recused himself from the discussion because of his ownership of land near the site.

Andersen Ranch is one of two housing developments Davidon is pursuing in Napa.

Near Old Sonoma Road to the southwest, the company has applied to the city to revive the 53-home Napa Oaks II, a smaller version of the hilltop project that aroused intense neighbor resistance from neighbors who predicted it would worsen erosion, flooding problems and traffic congestion. The City Council rejected Davidon’s original 83-home proposal in 2002, then prevailed in court after the company sued Napa for refusing to rezone the land for housing.

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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.