To members of Napa’s city land-use authority, the main defect of a shopping center set to become the new local home of Kohl’s department store may be that its design is too much like other shopping centers.
The city Planning Commission’s first look Thursday at Soscol Square, the retail plaza planned for a 7-acre site on Soscol Avenue’s auto showroom corridor, resulted in tepid reviews from members who labeled its design unoriginal at best and “a non-starter … a typical big box with three arched eyebrows on it” at worst, in the tart words of Commissioner Gordon Huether.
Though no vote was taken on the design and layout of the shopping center at Soscol and Gasser Drive — which also is to host Napa County’s first Chick-fil-A restaurant and up to seven other stores — planners urged the Canadian applicant, Ronmore Developers Inc. of Calgary, to remake not only Soscol Square’s styling but its sustainability and ease of access to those arriving on foot and bicycle as well as in cars.
“When I look at this building, I see nothing but lost opportunities,” declared Commissioner Bob Massaro, chief executive of the Healthy Buildings housing design, construction and management companies. “Right now, the architecture looks very conventional not only as architecture but from a performance viewpoint.
“The building as proposed makes climate change worse; it’s going to consume tremendous energy cooling and heating it. I think the applicant can do more; let’s have a project that doesn’t contribute to climate change.”
Various elements of the plan came in for the agency’s criticism, from the absence of solar power panels and other environmental features to 24-foot-tall lampposts planners said would overpower the site compared to the 14-foot poles at nearby shopping centers. But the styling of Soscol Square’s storefronts came in for perhaps the heaviest criticism.
Although Ronmore’s chairman Doug Porozni last fall promised a modern design with elements “that hearken back to the history of the area,” planners on Thursday found little that was distinctive or Napa-specific in the plans shared with the city so far.
A relocated Kohl’s and the city's first Chick-fil-A are coming to Soscol Avenue in Napa.
“I’ve been at this a long time, and I’m so disappointed and frustrated we’re still looking at things like this,” said Huether. “I think the architecture is horrible.”
“When I opened the application I said ‘Oh boy’ as well,” added Paul Kelley. “In my tenure on the Planning Commission, knowing what Napa has come to expect in high-level and not typical big-box store formats, while we want to work with tenants and owners to clearly identify their buildings, we want them to say something special about Napa (too). I feel like this project needs to say a lot more, and we’re putting the onus on the applicant to take our comments to heart.”
One of the design’s sins of omission, according to Commissioner Reed Oñate, is focusing Soscol Square’s tenants mostly inward toward parking areas rather than southward toward Tulocay Creek, where the city owns an easement for a footpath that will connect to the Napa Valley Vine Trail.
Oñate promised to hold properties hosting national chain retailers to the same design standards in force elsewhere in Napa. “Working with big-box retailers, they try to do the bare minimum out of the gate and then see what we have to say in these (city) forums,” he said. “This is subpar for Napa.”
Where will Napa's Kohl's move to? Read more about plans to create downtown Napa’s largest private development.
Soscol Square’s showcase 55,000-square-foot building is intended to accommodate the migration of Kohl’s to the Soscol Avenue retail corridor from its current downtown hub, which dates to Napa’s urban-renewal drive of the 1970s. Upon Kohl’s departure from the city center, the developer Zapolski Real Estate plans a 210-room hotel, 120 apartments, and 35,000 square feet of commercial space for the site, where the Wisconsin-based Kohl’s chain has done business since 2009, the year after a Mervyn’s store at that location folded with the rest of its parent company.
The center’s other high-profile brand is likely to be Chick-fil-A, the fast-food chain famed for its chicken sandwiches that has featured prominently in Napa Valley Register surveys among restaurant brands encouraged to open in the city. The 5,200-square-foot eatery would include a drive-through lane.
Other tenants would occupy the remaining 9,600 square feet at Soscol Square, which will include 179 parking spaces and include entrances from Soscol and Gasser.
WATCH NOW: WHAT’S NEXT FOR THIS SPACE ON NAPA’S SOSCOL AVENUE?
PHOTOS: A POSSIBLE FUTURE FOR A SOSCOL AVENUE SPACE IN NAPA
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