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Oat Hill

A depiction of what the view could look like from a house on Oat Hill. The American Canyon City Council last week agreed that housing would be the best type of development on the eastern side of the local landmark.

AMERICAN CANYON — One of American Canyon’s landmarks – Oat Hill that rises from the flatlands west of Highway 29 to an elevation of 260 feet – could have housing built on its eastern side.

Rick Hess wants to work with De Nova homes to build up to 174 housing units on 22 acres. His family has owned the land with sweeping views since the 1970s.

“If we’re going to preserve our ag lands within Napa County, we need to contain all of our housing within city limits,” Hess said. “Oat Hill is an ideal place in the city, since we have limited land for residential development, or any kind of development.”

He appeared before the City Council last week to find out if the city has any interest in the idea. The answer was a resounding “yes.”

“From my perspective, I think it’s a good project,” City Councilmember Mark Joseph said.

City Councilmember David Oro said the City Council has a responsibility to make a dent in California’s housing crisis, however small.

“We all know that housing is crucial in the Bay Area and the state,” City Councilmember Kenneth Leary agreed. “Making sure working people can live in the county, in American Canyon, I think is important.”

Land on the upper slope is presently designated industrial with a specialty commercial overlay and land on the lower slope is designated estate residential. Allowing the development proposed by Hess would require a general plan amendment and zoning change, a city report said.

“I think I’ve heard all of us here tonight say that industrial use, a big warehouse up there, is not going to look good and isn’t going to be good for the citizens of this city,” Oro said.

Much has to happen before the City Council could approve a project. The council on Tuesday voted to say residential is in concept the best use for the land and directed City Manager Jason Holley to try to move the project forward.

“Your comments tonight certainly give me some sense of encouragement it won’t be in vain,” Hess said.

The proposal is for up to 89 two-story homes to be built on the upper portions of Oat Hill looking down on City Hall, the Napa Ruins and Gardens and beyond. Up to 85 apartments in five three-story buildings would be built on the lower portions.

Various issues must be studied. Among them are hillside slope stability, recreation opportunities on top of Oat Hill and earthquake hazards, a city report said.

“We’d want to look at designing the development so it looks good from a distance and doesn’t overpower the hill as a geographical feature,” Community Development Manager Brent Cooper said.

Hess talked of having a path so all citizens could walk to the top of the Oat Hill. Views there range from Mount Tamalpais and San Francisco in the distance to various part of the American Canyon.

“It’s spectacular and I would like to open it up so the public has an opportunity to come up and enjoy that,” he said.

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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.