Empty parcel Highway 29 American Canyon

This empty parcel on the west side of Highway 29 is just one of dozens in American Canyon, which is formulating a plan to develop this stretch of the highway.

Noel Brinkerhoff, Eagle

AMERICAN CANYON — First impressions of American Canyon from the viewpoint of passing motorists, be it tourists or commuters, has not been a strong one. The stretch of Highway 29 that runs through the heart of town has long been a mishmash of empty parcels, older housing stock, and businesses set back so far from the road that they almost seem invisible to anyone speeding by.

But City Hall has been working for more than a year on an ambitious plan that would give the Broadway Corridor — that stretch of 29 from Napa Junction Road to American Canyon Road — a significant makeover, if not an overhaul in some respects.

The Broadway plan is still coming together, following 15 months of town hall meetings and workshops that have already yielded some big ideas for making the heart of American Canyon more economically vibrant and attractive for visitors, prospective businesses and local residents.

If all goes well, the plan would “enhance the Broadway District as a livable, small town, mixed-use city center that is vibrant and thriving and alluring as the face of American Canyon,” according to a vision statement developed for the plan.

Scott Davidson, a consultant with MIG, which the city hired to help craft the Broadway vision and strategy, noted that one of the goals is to “make American Canyon an attractive place to stop and visit.”

One of the big problems plaguing the corridor is the many vacant lots lining the highway, particularly on the west side.

“We have around 39 vacant parcels that make up 60 acres and 11 underdeveloped parcels that make up 26 acres along the Broadway corridor,” said Community Development Director Brent Cooper. “Altogether, these parcels make up almost 30 percent of the district’s 300 acres.”

Cooper noted during a special City Council meeting in February that the city has “different parcels in different conditions” along 29. The fact that most of the parcels were completely undeveloped, as opposed to being partially built out, could be a plus, he said.

“Some are vacant, fresh and ready for what might come this way,” said Cooper.

Filling these parcels will require making them more attractive to commercial or residential developers, City Manager Dana Shigley admitted.

One way to accomplish this would be for the city to install missing infrastructure for these lots “to make that less of a burden on developers,” said Shigley, which could mean building new access points or roads, streetlights, water lines or more.

The city is also contemplating the Broadway district as a collection of sub-districts that would designate certain types of development for specific areas along the highway.

For instance, the vacant lots near City Hall and farther south of it on the west side of the corridor might become a “Business Park” sub-district to attract more office space to the city.

Davidson said this area has “potential for mixed use,” meaning it might include some residential or retail development, “but we would like the focus to be office and business park.”

Next to the business park along the highway’s west side would be a “Broadway residential” sub-district from Rio Del Mar to Mid-City Nursery.

Zoning already allows for buildings up to 42 feet in height for this area, making it possible to put higher-density housing, such as apartments, here. The access to this housing wouldn’t necessarily be directly off the highway. Instead, they might face in a westerly direction away from 29, and residents living here would get home by way of local streets, such as Melvin Road.

Cooper said a second housing sub-district called West End Residential would be located west of Theresa Avenue, between Napa Junction Road and Eucalyptus Drive.

Another stretch of 29, on both the west and east sides, is slated to become a “Home Improvement” commercial area catering to businesses that provide do-it-yourself products and services.

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The largest sub-district east of the highway is envisioned as the “Downtown Core.” This area would start south of the Napa Junction Retail Center featuring Wal-Mart and extend south to Antonina Drive, near the Fairfield Inn & Suites.

It likely would be mixed-use development of high-density housing plus retail, including restaurants and cafes facing Main Street, which is set back from the highway.

In addition to developing or redeveloping parcels along the highway, the Broadway plan calls for creating easier ways to get across 29, particularly for pedestrians. Currently, traversing it is a challenge due to the scarcity of crosswalks.

The plan for now calls for building elevated ramps at the intersections of 29 and Napa Junction, Rio Del Mar, and Donaldson Way to increase options for residents to move from one side of town to the other.

All of these developments would come about at the same time the city will work with Caltrans on widening 29 through the corridor from four to six lanes.

The timetable for that part of the Broadway plan will largely be dictated by the state, which tends to move slowly when it comes to major highway changes.

The cost of improving the Broadway district is estimated to be $60 million, according to Cooper.

The city has designated a portion of its traffic impact fee — $12.7 million — to help pay this expected cost.

It will be seeking grants and other funding to cover the remainder needed.

The City Council plans to have another workshop on the Broadway blueprint on May 24 to review the latest iteration.

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