This week, Napa County officials hope to resolve land-map inconsistencies that have held plans for the controversial Angwin eco-village in limbo.
At a much-anticipated public hearing Tuesday, the Napa County Board of Supervisors will attempt to align conflicting land-use maps — either giving Pacific Union College and Triad Communities the green light to continue with their proposal, or setting in motion a process to stop the development before it even reaches the board.
PUC and Triad announced plans in 2007 to build a 591-home eco-village — with environmentally-sustainable residences, new retail space and improvements to the PUC campus. The proposal has since been downsized to 380 homes amid opposition from a vocal group of Angwin residents worried about the impacts of the development on their rural community.
An environmental review of the project —taking into account water, traffic and other types of impact — has been near completion for weeks, and is expected to be released shortly, according to PUC officials.
In the meantime, the county is wrestling with complications caused by old land-use maps it wants to revise.
Last year, the Napa County Planning Commission proposed a re-zoning and a reduction in size of about a dozen “urban bubbles” in order to make county maps consistent. The roughly-drawn bubbles identified rural areas in Angwin, Pope Valley, Moskowite Corners and elsewhere that could someday be used for urban development, but they failed in many cases to take into account the contours of the land or existing uses.
Supervisors in December adopted most, but not all, of these recommended changes, voting to preserve about 1,800 acres of agricultural land in these areas. When it came to the Angwin urban bubble, however, outside of removing ag land, a majority of supervisors voted to continue discussions to this Tuesday. They will also continue discussions related to the Pope Creek urban bubble.
“At that (December) meeting, it sounded like the majority of the board wanted to make different changes than the Planning Commission recommended and was potentially even sympathetic to the (eco-village opponents’) ideas that would effectively preclude” the development, Napa County Planning Director Hillary Gitelman said.
If supervisors adopt the Planning Commission’s proposal for Angwin zoning changes, it would have no effect on the proposed eco-village, Gitelman said.
But if the county approves an alternate proposal from Save Rural Angwin — a group opposed to the eco-village — the decision would limit the development to 191 residential units, a project size allowed under existing law but inconsistent with PUC’s goals.
Such a shift could not be accomplished in a day.
If the board on Tuesday seeks zoning changes other than those recommended by the Planning Commission, the issue would return to the Planning Commission for further discussion. The Planning Commission would have a minimum of 45 days to respond to the Board of Supervisors’ changes, though supervisors could give them up to six months or even a year, Gitelman said.
SRA will pitch its own proposal Tuesday, while PUC officials will rally against it.
“Our main intent is to make sure that the board really discusses our proposal for the Angwin area,” said Allen Spence, SRA spokesman.
The college, on the other hand, “would hope that there would be no zoning changes that would not allow for the Board of Supervisors to consider the proposal,” PUC President Richard Osborn said.
“I feel that the Board of Supervisors should consider the project on the basis of merits rather than taking the zoning as a chance to scuttle the project before it’s considered on the merits,” he said.
Supervisors appear to be split.
“I think we need to find what works for the Angwin community as a whole,” said Supervisor Diane Dillon, who represents the district that includes Angwin. “The issues involved in land use should not revolve around the needs of just one land owner, even if they’re the oldest land owner or the largest land owner.”
Dillon said she supported the 191 units previously approved because she felt it was consistent with the county’s General Plan, which allows for college-serving development such as housing for employees and students.
“They have strayed so far from that with the eco-village proposal,” Dillon said.
Osborn counters that the eco-village is college-serving, not only because of its educational benefits but also because the project will allow the much-needed build-up of the college’s endowment.
“If it enables us to continue to have a strong existence, then that’s serving the college, so I think they’re too narrowly defining what college-serving means,” Osborn said.
Mark Luce, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, agrees with Dillon that the eco-village differs greatly from the college-serving housing he envisioned when the county approved the 191 units. Luce said he hopes the board Tuesday will be able to clarify what kind of development is allowed by the college, but not make a decision that would stop the eco-village proposal.
“We may need a new institutional designation in the General Plan or to come up with an approach that accomplishes that so that when we have large institutions we set land aside for use for them, but at the same time don’t write an open check,” he said.
Still, Luce said, “I’m leaning towards the Planning Commission’s recommendation.”
Supervisor Bill Dodd opposes making any changes that would restrict the eco-village proposal from going forward for environmental review. He said he believes that preempting a project with zoning changes would be an unprecedented and under-handed move.
“The idea that now the county would have a discussion on what college-serving means I think really defies history and changes the rules in the middle of the game,” Dodd said. “The idea that the county would change the zoning or have a General Plan amendment to thwart a property owner’s right to come before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, if that’s what happens, is something that we’ve never done.”
Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said that, although he does not support the eco-village itself, the Planning Commission should consider the project proposal when the environmental report is complete, just as it would any other project, rather than circumventing the process by changing zoning now.
Keith Caldwell, the newest supervisor on the board who ran on a slow-growth platform, said he will make his decision after he hears the arguments on Tuesday.
Dodd said he fears that a zoning change could open the county up to potential litigation on three different fronts, the first of which would be the renewed threat of litigation from PUC based on religious discrimination.
In February of last year, Alan Reinach, a lawyer and president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church State Council, sent a letter to the county claiming that changes to the Angwin urban bubble could be seen as religious discrimination under a Clinton-era federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
At that time, the board was looking at the Angwin urban bubble only, but after the threat of litigation, supervisors chose to look at all 12 bubbles in the county to keep the process consistent.
Dodd said supervisors’ decision last month to single out Angwin again could revive the claims of religious discrimination.
Dillon, a lawyer, calls the threat a “red herring.” She pointed out that supervisors are also looking at Pope Creek, and that “(none) of us sitting at the Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors or anywhere affiliated with the county have any intent or plans to treat the college differently because it is a religious organization.”
Dodd said he also fears that the college could sue the county for violating its property rights, or that housing advocates could claim in court, as they have successfully in the past, that the county is doing too little to develop affordable housing.
Osborn remained vague about the possibility of litigation, stating only, “All of that is being studied now and I would rather let our lawyers comment on that at the appropriate time.”
“I think we’ve been working very hard on this and we’ve put a lot of energy and resources in this up to this point,” he said. “I’m optimistic that we’ll have a positive outcome at the hearing and so I’d rather not speculate as to what steps might be taken if there was a negative decision.”