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AmCan Ruins

The former Standard Portland Cement Co. factory will be a key part of the new town center under the proposed Watson Ranch project, which has been approved by the Napa County Airport Land Use Commission.

The motto of Watson Ranch, the years-long development project on the northeast side of town containing a decades-long promise of giving American Canyon’s its first true town center, should be “at first you don’t succeed…”

Multiple attempts have been tried in recent years to get a green light for Watson Ranch with City Council members, some of whom are eager to see actual development begin.

But, each time so far, the vision proposed for the project, or its details, has been shot down by the council.

Watson Ranch is, to say the least, a complicated endeavor, what with its grand promise of creating a center of town for residents to gather and its surrounding residential housing that would add more than 1,200 new homes to a city that has undergone tremendous growth since just the beginning of this century.

The town center component alone is tricky since it would grow from out of the city’s historic “ruins” of the old cement factory. Creating a functional commercial and entertainment area while retaining the character of the ruins’ deteriorating structure is a challenge in itself.

The latest blueprint for Watson Ranch, submitted to the city’s Planning Commission in November, offers some details on the town center’s creation and many other details on the housing part of the project, along with important infrastructure elements that will be needed to support everything.

This “Specific Plan” has yet to get a public vetting. That is scheduled to take place near the end of January.

For such a long document (about 170 pages), the Specific Plan offers few specifics on some very significant issues that have haunted the project and kept it from moving ahead.

Namely, water and traffic: where’s the water going to come from for the people living in Watson Ranch, and how is the city going to manage the 3,000 new residents who would be driving out of the new subdivisions and onto Highway 29.

On the water issue, there are some general assurances in the draft.

On the traffic question, there was nothing I found in reading through it.

The plan says Watson Ranch would require 340 acre feet of “potable” (read: drinkable) water a year.

The developers insist that it will be possible to generate 325 acre feet of potable water through “the use of recycled water.” The remainder would come from “bringing additional sources of water to the city,” whose Zero Water Footprint policy demands that all new housing projects find their own water because American Canyon has nothing extra to spare.

One place providing “additional sources of water” might be Vallejo, where the developer has some water rights and is in negotiation to ship some water north to support Watson Ranch, according to city officials who have been closely following the project.

As for how Watson Ranch will be built and not generate even more automotive congestion for Highway 29 is anyone’s guess. The plan is quiet on this matter.

Another absentee from the Specific Plan is a “preservation plan” for the historic ruins. That part is still to come, according to a notation.

The draft document does claim “many of the existing ruins on the site will be retained for reuse.”

In the very next sentence, though, the plan says: “Given the property’s advanced state of deterioration a mix of preservation approaches will be used – including rehabilitation, alteration, addition, selective demolition, stabilization and new alternative uses.”

Other than mentioning that three structures with roofs will be preserved/reused (the rotunda, power plant and small warehouse), the plan tells little else about the ruins.

Presumably those specifics will come in the preservation plan to follow.

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