Planning Commission stalls Copia rezone

2014-07-11T15:30:00Z 2014-08-19T15:45:09Z Planning Commission stalls Copia rezoneJANELLE WETZSTEIN Napa Valley Register

The ongoing saga involving the insurance company that reclaimed the bankrupt Copia site and is trying to develop it against the wishes of residents who do not own the property, continued at Thursday’s Napa Planning Commission meeting.

In the latest chapter, a proposed rezone that was meant to provide more clarity about what uses are allowed at the landmark First Street building wound up causing further confusion, and ultimately led the commission to postpone taking any action on the matter.

“This feels like a big deal, because it is a big deal,” said Commissioner Gordon Huether during the meeting. “And I’m not comfortable being hasty when it comes to a big deal.”

After site owner Copia Liquidation Trust attempted in March to sign leases with financial offices in the top floor of the building that once housed the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, local dissenters complained that such uses were not appropriate for the prestigious space.

While offices are an allowed use for the property under the city’s 2012 Downtown Specific Plan for development, a second city planning document that governs the Oxbow Commercial District, known as the PD-2, states different overarching goals that more closely reflect Copia’s original intended use as a wine and cultural museum.

After both the Planning Commission and the City Council sided with those who wanted to see more innovative development at Copia, the City Council expressed concern over the lack of clarity for allowed and desired uses at the site. Ultimately, the council asked city staff to explore requiring the Copia Liquidation Trust and site developer Keith Rogal to implement a site master plan, explicitly outlining future planned development.

Staff presented their initial proposal during Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting, which included requiring the site to be master planned before any new development takes place, as well as repealing the PD-2 zoning that seemed to differ from the city’s more recently defined goals listed in the Downtown Specific Plan.

But just hours before the commission was set to meet, the city received a request from Napa developer Harry Price, who would like to purchase the building from Copia Liquidation Trust and develop it with other residents.

In his last-minute request, Price asked the city to allow certain uses that are a part of the PD-2 zoning to continue at Copia, despite staff’s effort to remove such uses. Price contended that the uses he wanted approved for Copia were closer to the original intended use of the building.

He also argued that city staff misinterpreted the City Council’s earlier direction, which Price said was to look at what uses would be appropriate for Copia — not to simply make everything easier for developers and staff.

“The PD-2 has been a thorn in everyone’s side, but it’s the only thing that has kept this building from becoming an office space,” an aggravated Price said during the meeting. “This whole (proposal) was written with a fear of losing control. It reeks of back-room dealings”

The uses that Price wanted allowed in Copia included museum and library exhibits, education and training, conference and special event rentals, restaurants, retail and wine, beer and liquor tasting. Staff contended that if these uses were permitted across the board in the building, the developer could fill the facility with wine tasting businesses – something the city has expressly said it doesn’t want to see.

But Price argued that allowing these uses on a conditional basis would require the city to first approve any such development.

Staff and commissioners went back and forth for more than an hour on the subject, trying to imagine every possible scenario in which a developer or owner could bend the rules to create an environment the city doesn’t want to see at the private property.

In the end, the discussion further confused commissioners, who have been struggling with how to preserve the spirit of the original vision Robert Mondavi had when he built the center in 2006.

“This is all really new information and I’d like to know more about it,” said Commissioner Paul Kelley, who pointed out that he first saw Price’s request in writing only about 20 minutes before Thursday’s meeting. “I’m not prepared to make a decision on this tonight.”

The rest of the commission agreed, and instructed city staff to postpone the matter until staff had created a list of uses that mirrored the actual use of the Center for Food, Wine and the Arts when it was open. The date for a future hearing is unknown.

Copia Liquidation Trust has estimated the Copia site to be $80 million in debt. Though local Copia aficionados like Price have spoken about preserving the project’s noble intent, none have stepped forward with enough money to purchase the property.

Copyright 2015 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(12) Comments

  1. napan79
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    napan79 - July 12, 2014 12:31 am
    Make Copia a Kid's Center, like the Discovery Museum, this would be a great use for Copia.
  2. rocketman
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    rocketman - July 12, 2014 5:51 am
    The tail wagging the dog........
  3. Crosscountrykid
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    Crosscountrykid - July 12, 2014 6:34 am
    The dream and vision that was Copia has devolved into a developmental nightmare and will continue to cause many sleepless nights for many people. Two lessons are evolving. The first is that more and more of what is Napa (both city and county) will be driven by remote interests whose needs may be much different than local preferences. Secondly, if the city of Napa assumes jurisdiction over Napa Pipe, the time and energy thus far devoted to Copia will pale by comparison for what will be needed for Napa Pipe. Let the Copia imbroglio serve as a harbinger for the amount of attention large projects demand. Does the City have the human resources to devote to Napa Pipe while also attending to Copia, development downtown, street and sidewalk maintenance, etc? That's a lot on the municipal plate even if all went smoothly, which it won't. The city may be biting off more than it can developmentally chew, even if paired with the correct wine.
    Eric Vaughan
  4. valley native
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    valley native - July 12, 2014 6:49 am
    COPIA FAILED. It is not Copia anymore. All due respect Mr. Price, keep it in the spirit of Robert Mondavi's vision? It failed!!!! The museum was boring. Another building with great potential lost in City muck.
  5. BennyD
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    BennyD - July 12, 2014 8:56 am
    Wasn't there a Ritz Carlton planned for the area near Copia? How about anchoring that area with a nice hotel with river access and a conference area. I'm sure it would be mutually beneficial for all the activity that is happening there now.
  6. AShannon
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    AShannon - July 12, 2014 9:27 am
    So many suggestions are devoid of any economic reality ... COPIA didn't work, get over it! Who would pay for a museum or community center or whatever? Many people seem to think that there are other people (or govt) just sitting around with money to waste. They won't put a dime of their own money of course!
  7. funnyme
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    funnyme - July 12, 2014 10:42 am
    The longer COPIA sits empty it seems the issues become more complicated instead of simpler (lessons learned, anyone?). Bureaucracy.

    Napa for locals and tourists, and anything in between. It's a matter of taste and budget among many other things.

    "...Wind, Food and the Arts..." The article reads.
    Once upon a time, there was such thing as "proof reading", remember those days?
  8. glenroy
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    glenroy - July 13, 2014 8:23 am
    Read it didn't work, it was unorganized in vision backed up by a very poor business model.

    The Oxbow is fast reaching capacity for what's could use more retail and offices.

    The one thing that should be obvious is the Oxbow crowd is not the $100.00 btl...not even the $50.00...more like the $25.00...
  9. Dalton J Piercey
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    Dalton J Piercey - July 13, 2014 11:05 am
    I had a dream about Copia. It became the business office rentals that are envisioned by the Copia Liquidation Trust. It seems the dream carried on over years, then Copia became a Lazer Tag arena for some time. Then after awhile it turned into a Smog Recertification business. After that it sat empty for 8 years and then soon flip flopped into a larger Pizza Parlor. Then finally a pool hall. Then I woke up in a cold sweat, realizing that I had a amazing alternate vision surfacing out of my nightmare about Copia, some how the community got together and everyone realized that if we built another "like to akin" building across the street we would have a amazing Micro Convention Center that would continue to feed commerce to downtown and all sub-services too. Corporate businesses looking for a facility to hold a micro convention in Napa Valley Wine Country would be able to find pay dirt in a modern beautiful facility. Then I reminded my visionary self, that people thought Columbus was crazy.
  10. Cadence
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    Cadence - July 13, 2014 4:12 pm
    Well then, it's time to change the tenor of the Oxbow crowd. A better heeled class would embrace wealth management services at Copia, high end realtors, maybe even a cool sounding (and very well funded) tech startup. Very boring, very colorless but also very safe.
  11. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - July 13, 2014 6:34 pm
    A business model that would do super well Downtown would be a wedding reception/ convention center venue. Wineries are limited as to how many weddings they can host per year. Let the wineries use Copia as a place for weddings while serving and promoting their product.

    Also, wine/ cheese tasting galleries could be located throughout the center, promoting the culture of wine and food.

    Some of the businesses located there could be catering and wedding attire, a gift and card shop. A sit down restaurant for wedding and convention patrons would be great too. but they would be set up only as a preparation facility for caterers.
  12. Ricardus
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    Ricardus - July 14, 2014 11:14 am
    Here we go again with a developer who has purchased a place and should have the right to do whatever s/he wants. Unfortunately, the Napa NIMBYs just won't stand for it! It's amazing that Napa town has become a destination at all - surprising that anything is ever done. As other comments indicate - Copia is gone; get over it; let the developer proceed - maybe they can put a full time circus in the building? and this is just a suggestion, and my humble opinion - have all of the city council and planners as the main attraction?
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