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American Canyon rebuffs Napa County concerns over Oat Hill housing

American Canyon rebuffs Napa County concerns over Oat Hill housing

Oat Hill

American Canyon says a proposal for 291 multi-family units on Oat Hill poses no problems for Napa County Airport. The hill is a landmark on the west side of Highway 29.

American Canyon has granted a flurry of approvals needed for housing on Oat Hill, though that meant rebuffing county and state concerns related to nearby Napa County Airport.

Several City Council members said this week that a compatibility plan for the county-owned airport is outdated. Under that plan, 51 of the proposed 291 multi-family units are in a no-home zone because of possible noise from flights.

Vice Mayor Mark Joseph questioned why the county has no objections to some of the proposed buildings, but thinks adjacent buildings somehow pose a problem.

“It defies common sense,” Joseph said. “It defies any rationale."

City Councilmember David Oro said the city shouldn’t acquiesce to what he called an “outdated” airport compatibility plan.

“This is a housing project for the city of American Canyon and the region,” he said. “We are in a housing crisis. We need to build more homes.”

The City Council on Tuesday overruled a county Airport Land Use Commission finding that would have stopped the project as proposed. It also passed general plan amendments and started rezoning needed for Oat Hill multi-family housing.

Napa County in a Sept. 3 letter asked the city not to overrule the Airport Land Use Commission. Instead, it wanted the city to explore different versions of the project that would remove the 51 housing units from the no-home zone.

Unless the city corrects certain errors and recirculates environmental analysis, it “will face significant legal risk,” attorney Matthew Adams wrote on behalf of Napa County.

The state Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics in an Aug. 20 letter to the city sided with the county Airport Land Use Commission.

“The division has reviewed the proposed findings provided by the city and has determined the findings are insufficient to warrant the proposed overrule,” Associate Transportation Planner Dennis O’Connor wrote in bold print.

The division wants to make certain airports don't impose noise or safety burdens on the public. Part of Oat Hill is higher than 200 feet and airport management reports more noise complaints from residents on hillsides, the letter said.

But American Canyon governs land use within its borders. The City Council decided that the evidence shows the Oat Hill homes are compatible with the airport.

The city and developer claimed that, using state airport compatibility methodology, the disputed portion of Oat Hill shouldn’t be in a no-home zone. Aircraft flying overhead wouldn’t pose a significant noise concern.

Caltrans said the county Airport Land Use Commission can go beyond state standards based on local conditions and airport operations. But Joseph said the commission must explain why it is being more restrictive.

“Otherwise, you could be more stringent because you want to be a bully,” he said.

American Canyon also pointed to a Federal Aviation Administration letter saying the proposed buildings wouldn't pose a hazard to navigable airspace.

Oat Hill is about 250 feet in elevation and the only substantial hill in American Canyon on the west side of Highway 29. Napa County Airport is less than two miles away.

The eastern slope of Oat Hill is to have 18 three-story buildings with 291 units, with what city officials called “modern farmhouse-style architecture.” The development is to include a path allowing the general public to walk toward the top of Oat Hill and look at the view.

Next, the City Council at a future meeting will review the proposed project’s design and tentative map.

“This is the culmination of 21 months of design, (of) back-and-forth with the city, to get to the plan we currently have, which I believe will be a great benefit to the community,” developer Rick Hess told the council.

Mayor Leon Garcia ended the session with comments praising the proposed development.

“Mr. Hess, this is going to be one of those projects where people go by and see it and there’s going to be a question — how do I get one of those?” he said.

Hot air balloons often land in the city of Napa's Vine Hill Park. Here's what it looked like on a recent day.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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