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Critics blast St. Regis project, but city touts revenues; more hearings ahead

Critics blast St. Regis project, but city touts revenues; more hearings ahead

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Stanly Ranch, proposed site of St. Regis hotel
This wooden shed houses a historic cistern, or water tank, on Stanly Ranch. Developers hope to put a 245-unit St. Regis resort on 93 acres of rolling vineyards in the area. Owners have agreed to retain the cistern. J.L. Sousa/Register

The city of Napa Planning Commission supports placing a high-end St. Regis resort among the vineyards at Stanly Ranch.

Commissioners endorsed the St. Regis project on a 4-1 vote, saying it would be an economic boon to the city and would not jeopardize revitalization plans for downtown.

The majority of commissioners rejected assertions that the 245-unit project would open the gates to further urban development at the city’s southern entrance. “No way, not ever, over my dead body,” Commissioner Gordon Huether said.

The lone dissenter, Commissioner Jay Golik, wasn’t so sure. If 93 acres are being set aside for a resort and winery, “It will be easier to come back next year and rezone for more,” he said.

St. Regis Napa Valley would be part of an elite chain of resorts stretching from New York to Beijing with properties in Rome, Cairo and Singapore. With room rates starting at $800 a night, the resort would be the “premier hotel in the Napa Valley,” St. Regis spokesman Mark Keiser said.

According to consultants, the project would generate phenomenal revenue for the cash-strapped city. First-year tax totals would be $4.4 million, growing to $10.5 million by the 10th year, making the St. Regis the city’s largest taxpayer. The city’s general fund is a little more than $60 million.

During Thursday’s one-hour public hearing, 16 people spoke. Critics said the city should leave Stanly Ranch in agriculture, while David Grabill, an attorney who is suing the city for not providing enough affordable housing, said the resort wasn’t doing its share to house low-income workers.

Approving the St. Regis would open “an absolute Pandora’s Box of mischief,” said Judy duMonde, a west Napa resident. Extending sewer service under the Napa River to St. Regis would promote further urbanization of the Carneros area, she said.

Noting the site’s distant location, Wendy Ward, director of Preservation Napa Valley, called the project “textbook sprawl. There is nothing smart or green about this project.”

Supporters cited the project’s economic and environmental impact reports, saying St. Regis would fit unobtrusively amid grapevines while burnishing Napa’s reputation as a quality tourist destination.

The developer, SR Napa LLC of Colorado, promises to build and operate the resort according to the highest environmental standards. Employees and guests would be offered a shuttle so they don’t have to use their cars.

According to a report by Economic Research Associates, the St. Regis would pay the Napa Valley hotel industry’s highest wages. The median wage would be $38,000 — half of employees would earn more, half less. The median hourly rate would be $19.79, not counting tips. Ninety percent of employees would qualify for fringe benefits, the developer said.

St. Regis officials predicted that as many as 85 percent of employees would come from Napa area, meaning they are already housed. Commissioners said the resort would lower the city’s 10 percent jobless rate.

Much of the St. Regis discussion centered on the Ritz-Carlton resort, approved several years ago for First Street at Silverado Trail, but as yet unbuilt for lack of financing.

Public speakers said the St. Regis might get built first, making it even harder for the Ritz-Carlton to get financing to break ground. The Ritz-Carlton would be a greater asset for downtown, they said.

Huether said he called the Ritz-Carlton developer and asked if the St. Regis would be a serious impediment. Brad Weiser of the Continental Companies said it would not, he said.

St. Regis developers said their project would attract a more affluent customer who wanted a more bucolic wine country experience.

To project supporters, the proposed extension of Napa Sanitation District sewer and reclaimed water lines to the St. Regis was a plus. If reclaimed water were available for landscaping, the project would use less potable city water than is now used to irrigate vines on the property.

Reclaimed water would be available to other vineyard owners in the Carneros, helping to ease the area’s long-term water shortage.

Critics said the sewer line would make possible more urban development on the 712-acre Stanly Ranch.

The ranch is located in the Carneros wine region, but within the city limits. The Stanly Ranch was annexed in 1964. In the 1970s, the property was placed within the city’s rural urban limit, which opened up development possibilities not available to adjacent vineyard land outside the city.

In 2003, the Stanly Ranch was subdivided into 16 agricultural parcels, with the city allowing six wineries with tours and tastings. Only one winery, Starmont, has been built. Half the ranch is planted to chardonnay and pinot noir.

Within the 93-acre site, developers would retain 42 acres of vines, creating a wine country ambiance for guests.

The resort would fully control 150 units, including 91 cottages. Another 25 cottages would be sold to up to a dozen time-share owners, while

70 residences would have single owners.

The 95 cottages not under resort ownership would be available for rental to varying degrees.

The developer agreed to retain a century-old concrete cistern that once provided water for agriculture. It will be incorporated into the landscape plan.

The city is insisting that St. Regis qualify for AAA’s highest hotel rating, five diamonds. Only two hotels in Northern California have five diamonds — Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco and Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Micah Hinkle of the city’s economic development department said.

St. Regis will have a hearing before the Napa County Airport Land Use Commission on Feb. 3 to determine if the resort would interfere with airport operations.

The City Council is tentatively scheduled to have a hearing on Feb. 16.

The council is being asked to change the General Plan designation on 93 acres from Resource Area to Tourist Commercial and approve the project master plan. The design of the units would be approved later.

Jeff Selby, the developer, said it could take 12 to 18 months to complete plans, with construction starting in late 2011 or early 2012. Hotels have suffered in the recession, but there are signs that the economy is coming back, he said.[

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