Napa County could have a new open space area near American Canyon as the flip side of the planned Watson Ranch development.
The county Planning Commission last week approved a parcel subdivision needed to create the proposed, 321-acre preserve. The land is next to 309-acre Watson Ranch, which is to have up to 1,253 homes and create an American Canyon town center out of the Portland Cement Co. ruins.
Watson Ranch will pave habitat where the Swainson’s hawk can forage and the California red-legged frog might live. The Jaeger family, which is involved with the Watson Ranch development, proposes preserving the 321 acres it owns to the east as environmental mitigation.
The question is whether the public will be able to hike and enjoy nature there. Nate Heydorff, a managing partner in the endeavor, said in an email that the applicants view public access as a great benefit, but the decision isn’t solely up to them.
“There was a tremendous amount of time and resources committed to get us to this juncture, and we still have a lot of complicated discussions to have with a roster of environmental consultants, government officials and stakeholders,” he told the Napa Valley Register.
How big is 321 acres? By comparison, the city of Napa’s Alston Park is 160 acres and Napa’s Westwood Hill Park is 117 acres. If public access comes about, Napa County would be getting a sizable, new hiking area.
Most of the site is grasslands with a few, scattered woodlands of oaks and eucalyptus. Elevations rise to more than 800 feet, with some steep slopes.
The project, officially proposed by JamCan, LLC, was well-received by the Planning Commission.
“I’m very enthusiastic about the additional open space. There’s so much growth in American Canyon, it’s nice to still have this designated space that’s not going to be touched,” said Planning Commissioner Megan Dameron, an American Canyon resident.
Also, the Jaeger land is next to American Canyon’s 640-acre Newell Open Space Preserve. Jeffrey Jaeger sees the planned open space as adding to the enjoyment of Newell patrons.
“It’s going to become a 900-acre open space opportunity for people from the city and county to basically use,” Jaeger told planning commissioners.
The next step is to work on a conservation easement for the property, Jaeger said. A conservation easement takes away development rights, even if land remains in private ownership.
Preserving the 321 acres for wildlife isn’t a new idea. The concept is mentioned repeatedly in the July 2018 draft environmental impact report for the Watson Ranch development.
Planning Commission chairperson David Whitmer praised the proposed conservation area and called commission action to help create it a “no-brainer.”
“It really is a legacy that’s left for the people of the county of Napa and the city of American Canyon,” Whitmer said.
But the project is complicated.
The original parcel is 522 acres. The applicant intends to split this into three parcels – one that is 192 acres, one 160 acres and one 170 acres. The open space conservation area will include land from the latter two parcels.
Each parcel will meet the minimum 160-acre parcel size in the agricultural watershed zoning district. That means each can have a home, with the building sites outside of the proposed conservation area.
Future owners of the two parcels with the conservation areas would have to manage that part of the property to the restrictions contained in the conservation easement, a county report said.
The county report doesn’t mention public access. If and how that might come about remains to be seen.
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You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.