Plans to open an affordable burger joint on the Napa River are moving forward, but it may not be a BurgerFi chain that ultimately occupies the former First Street garage site.
Local developer Steve Hasty said BurgerFi is still in the running, but he’s considering alternate ideas to revamp the former Riverside Service Station at 967 First St.
“I think it will be a very similar concept but we may not be moving forward with BurgerFi itself,” Hasty said Tuesday. “It will still be a place for affordable lunch, affordable early dinner.”
According to its website, BurgerFi is a chain mostly located in East Coast states and Texas that uses all-natural, grass-fed beef and sustainable products. Its menu features burgers, hot dogs, fries, onion rings and desserts.
Hasty said the kitchen for his proposed restaurant may require a different setup and equipment depending on what type of fare is offered.
“If we have a brew pub, we will have tanks,” Hasty said. “If we have a brew pub with artisan pizza, we’ll need different equipment.”
Hasty submitted plans for the restaurant late last year and last week, finalized changes to those plans. He is now requesting permission to add an upper floor to the one-story garage for rooftop dining overlooking the Napa River. The upper level would have a small indoor area housing an elevator and a larger patio for seating.
Numerous windows would be added to the garage building so that ground-level diners could soak in the downtown landscape, according to a drawing of the proposed building.
There will be additional outdoor seating on the ground level, both in the parking lot facing First Street, and on the south side of the building which will have a small bar, Hasty said. The total of indoor and outdoor seats will be about 80, he said.
Associate city planner Michael Allen said he hopes to sign off on the design plans within two weeks. The recently proposed changes would normally constitute a new project that would typically send the project to the back of the line, but Allen said he is trying to expedite the process. The project was one of three set that was to be discussed at a Tuesday meeting of Planning Department staff, according to their agenda.
Hasty said he believes the design review process has taken longer than it should have. Chief among his complaints was that he was required to receive a flood waiver from the Flood Control and Water Conservation District to move forward with the project.
“The flood waiver process was designed prior to the flood work being complete,” Hasty said, explaining that he does not understand why he would need a waiver when flood control work outside the property is seemingly complete. “They wanted to make sure the new work (on the garage) wouldn’t affect the flood work.”
Hasty said the intent of the waiver requirement was to ensure that no one built along the river prior to flood control work that might require new construction to be changed or removed. In the case of the First Street garage, land was already taken for use in flood control, he said.
“Having me go through a flood waiver process is moot,” Hasty said.
Allen said it may seem silly, but the city is bound by ordinance to require such waivers for Measure A properties and the flood project is not complete. He said the Napa River Inn expansion project also required such a waiver.
Prompted, at least in part, by Hasty’s concerns, Allen said the city plans to look at this requirement and possibly amend it so developers don’t have to take this extra step if their properties are in areas where flood work is complete.
Hasty also said the city required him to provide documentation from an engineer stating that the existing sea wall at the east edge of the restaurant site is structurally sound. He said this requirement should not have been necessary, as he believes the city has documentation dating back to the construction of the First Street bridge verifying the wall’s integrity. Hasty said the requirement only slowed the project down and cost him money.
The city has documentation that the wall may collapse and therefore required an engineer’s assessment as a way to protect itself from potential liability, Allen said.
Hasty admitted he doesn’t make it easy on city staff, explaining he’s an experienced developer in Napa and likes to question every requirement.
“It is a fun process to go through,” Hasty said after explaining his frustrations. “They’re looking out for the city. I like working with staff and it doesn’t discourage me when we have differences of opinion. It’s good for them and it works in the end for me.”
Hasty had planned to begin construction in January and open by spring, but said the city’s slowness in approving the project has pushed the timeline out to an undetermined date.
Allen said he and other city staff look forward to completion of the project and are working to get it moved through the proper channels.
“I’d like to get in the ground as soon as possible,” Hasty said. “Spring and summer are on their way here. I have a lot of work I need to do.”
After getting the go-ahead on the building’s design, Hasty will need to get permits from the building department, which he said could take between one and two months. In the meantime, he is working on other aspects of the project so he’s ready to hit the ground running when he has approval.
Hasty said it’s hard to say exactly how long it could take to construct the restaurant, but estimated it could be around four months.