Napa County turned to residents to help figure out how to fit 190 to 220 apartments and townhouses onto an Old Sonoma Road site that has three century-old buildings – and whether the buildings should stay.
The county moved its Health and Human Services Agency from the site last summer. County supervisors have said the 8.6 acres of county-owned land in the city of Napa is perfect for affordable housing.
Most of the former Health and Human Service Agency buildings will be demolished without controversy. Three Mission Revival and Prairie-style buildings along the crescent driveway that were once part of the county infirmary are different.
“I just want to state upfront – so everyone understands – the historic buildings have been determined eligible for the National Register,” Napa City Councilwoman Juliana Inman said.
But others see freeing up more room at the site for affordable housing as the pressing need. Still others want to make certain whatever is built fits in with the existing Old Sonoma Road neighborhood.
All of these forces converged this week during a two-hour evening workshop at Harvest Middle School attended by about 140 people. Some lived in the neighborhood; some were affordable housing advocates who lived elsewhere.
“Tonight is really about the trade-offs that will come,” consultant Scott Davison said. “There are a lot of ideas about the use of the property and we can’t accommodate all of them.”
MIG consulting firm presented four affordable housing scenarios for the site. Three got rid of the old buildings and featured two-story or three-story apartments, as well as townhouses. The scenario that kept the old buildings featured five-story apartments that some neighbors opposed.
“Why do they have to be five-story?” an audience member said.
Because otherwise, the number of affordable housing units would have to be shrunk to retain room for the three old buildings, consultant Chris Beynon said.
Some thought shrinking density a good compromise. Deputy County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan said one factor is how many units are needed to make the project profitable for a developer.
“You have set this up purposely to make sure you can get rid of the buildings,” an audience member said.
“I have no dog in the fight,” Beynon responded.
Audience members did more than voice comments. They also took a survey using clickers resembling small television remote controls, with the results posted almost instantly on a screen.
“This is not a vote,” consultant Noe Noyola told them. “This is a preference poll…we’re not making decisions tonight.”
Among the questions – how important is it to retain the three old buildings along the crescent driveway?
Within seconds, the results were known. Retaining the buildings had 37 percent strong support, 16 percent support, 10 percent opposition and 26 percent strong opposition, with 11 percent neutral.
Subsequent questions focused on tradeoffs. Sixty-five percent said reducing density is more important than keeping the buildings. Sixty percent said maximizing onsite parking is more important.
Audience members rated the benefits of redeveloping the site among six choices. Top vote-getters were creating affordable housing at 30 percent, raising surrounding property values at 19 percent and enhancing community image at 17 percent.
“I would caution making one site the be-all and end-all of the housing needs,” one audience member said.
“We don’t want to be sacrificed for your efforts on affordable housing,” another said, garnering some applause.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Alfredo Pedroza attended the workshop, the second of three that are planned. He said gathering input from the neighbors to the site is important.
“I think we’ve demonstrated this is not being done in a vacuum,” Pedroza said on Friday.
He understands that one project can’t solve the affordable housing challenge, Pedroza said. Housing is also being built at other locations in the city.
“At the end of the day, I think we have to acknowledge affordable housing is a significant concern for our constituents,” he said.
Rattigan said the consultants will take the public feedback and create a refined site option. This option will be the focus of a third workshop, perhaps in late March or early April.
The soonest a proposal for the site could go to the Board of Supervisors would be late April to early May, she said.
The county wants to create a master plan for the site and do the required environmental studies. It would seek zoning approval from the city of Napa Planning Commission and City Council. Ultimately, the county would sell the site to a developer to build the project.