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Member of Ghisletta family denies plans for developing lands in south Napa

Foster Road property in south Napa

A tract of grassland east of Foster Road in south Napa, one of the largest remaining open spaces within the city's sphere of influence, is the subject of a draft general plan that includes rezoning the area for home construction. Some residents have spoken out against a rezoning and called for the city to zone the area as a greenbelt, limiting new homes to one every 20 acres.

Amid a drive by south Napa residents to block housing growth in their corner of the city, a member of the Ghisletta family has denied having any development project in the works for the lands that once hosted a dairy farm.

Speaking to the Napa City Council last week, Adam Ghisletta firmly pushed back on what he described as speculation that his family would quickly seek to build homes on family-held property off Foster Road, in a grassy corridor with expansive valley views that has been the target of an effort to create a greenbelt severely curbing future growth.

“We have never had any agreement to develop this property,” Ghisletta, whose family purchased the land for its namesake dairy farm in 1913, told council members Tuesday during an update on the city’s creation of a general plan to guide zoning and growth through 2040. “We have never had a partnership with any developer, and we have no current plans to develop this property. It is unfortunate that some are spreading rumors that we have plans in place in partnership with developers; these rumors are completely false. There is no project planned or in progress.”

At the same time, Ghisletta spoke out in favor of an annexation of south Napa lands that would include a rezoning of currently family-owned properties for housing — a progression he called necessary to prevent more residents from being priced out of one of the nation’s costliest real estate markets.

“I am the fourth generation of Ghislettas to live in Napa; my daughters are the fifth,” he said during the council’s videoconferenced meeting. “I would love for them to be able to afford to live in Napa when they are my age. If we do not smartly plan for the future, they may not be able to do so. … The Ghisletta family feels that the benefits for our entire community far outweigh an open field and the view for a small number of our fellow citizens.”

Ghisletta made his declaration as the Napa council discussed the future of a 144-acre area comprising five parcels around Foster Road and Golden Gate Drive, west of Highway 29. Preliminary drafts of Napa’s next general plan have contemplated zoning that would allow for medium-density housing off Golden Gate, closer to the freeway, and low-density housing in the Foster Road corridor.

While drafts of Napa’s next general plan include a rezoning and annexation of lands for housing construction — building on land designations dating to the mid-1970s — opponents have instead urged the creation of a greenbelt that would cap development at one home for every 20 acres, citing the risk of traffic congestion, wildfires, and earthquake risk.

While the Ghisletta property is outside Napa’s city limits, it remains in the city’s growth blueprint, having been mapped inside the Napa rural-urban limit — the projected outermost boundary of future annexation — in 1975. The city in 2007 applied to the county’s Local Area Formation Commission to annex the property with an eye toward creating up to 1,000 housing units, only to back down the following year amid resistance by south Napa residents.

Meanwhile, the president of the Napa Valley Horsemen’s Association sought a written commitment to protecting the group’s ability to operate its clubhouse and equine center, and to let the association choose whether and when to join the city.

In an email, Gina Massolo thanked city officials for assuring the Horsemen’s Association its property would not be annexed against the group’s will, while petitioning for buffer zones to prevent future construction from hampering rural uses at the site — and also to protect against curbs on animal keeping within city limits. “Without adequate protection for (the association), residential growth on neighboring lands would over time conflict with the historic use of our property,” she wrote the city.

Speaking to the council, several residents remained firm in their determination to head off any significant growth along Foster Road. Bob Flynn, who moved to the area in 2015, framed his opposition, not as a plea to protect one neighborhood, but to preserve one of the more prominent entry points for Napa Valley travelers.

“I am not appealing to you to save my neighborhood; I am appealing to you to save the gateway to the Napa Valley,” he said. “I truly believe that the commercialization of the Napa Valley is a shortsighted opportunity, one that will ultimately benefit the few at the cost of many. The world has enough commercialization already, and we are fortunate enough to live in a gem in a sea of mediocrity.”

Council members gave no indication Tuesday they would entertain blanket curbs on development near Foster Road, as Mayor Scott Sedgley pointed the area’s longstanding status as a potential growth zone.

The territory has been identified in general plans for nearly four decades “as a logical housing opportunity,” said Sedgley, who was in his first City Council term during Napa’s failed annexation attempt in 2007. “It’s on transportation, it’s on municipal services, there’s a brand-new school (Snow Elementary, rebuilt farther away from a nearby fault after the 2014 earthquake) built nearby, and it’s not particularly prime agricultural land.”

“Let me assure listeners there is no proposed project out there, no strip malls proposed, nothing like that,” he added. “It’s just identifying the potential for where growth could possibly happen.”

Councilmember Beth Painter recommended drawing a master plan specifically to guide the Foster Road corridor’s growth — a device similar to the city’s rule book for the Napa Pipe development in south Napa but focused mainly on residential growth compared to Napa Pipe’s planned blend of housing, retail and a Costco store.

In any event, Councilmember Mary Luros added, many of the concerns about Foster Road’s growth will remain premature until and unless concrete development plans come to light.

“We’ve been planning housing here literally as long as I’ve been alive,” said Luros, who also favored protecting the Horsemen’s Association’s right to continue operating near Foster Road. “I think a lot of the issues that people are concerned about — view sheds and seismic issues and traffic —would be more properly addressed when there’s an actual application in front of us.”

Preliminary maps of Napa’s zoning under a new general plan envision greenbelts for two other locations on the city’s western edge — at the Napa Oaks property on Old Sonoma Road where housing subdivisions were vetoed by the City Council in 2002 and 2018, and near Timberhill Park in Browns Valley. Homeowners in those areas have opposed earlier city proposals for “very low density” zoning to allow one or two dwellings per acre. (A 20-acre minimum per home already exists at both sites under Napa’s existing “resource area” zoning, but not at Foster Road.)

An updated version of Napa’s city general plan should be ready for review around mid-September, allowing for another round of public comment and environmental studies ahead of a final decision by the council, according to Michael Walker, city senior planner. The final version of the general plan is not expected to reach a council vote sooner than the first quarter of 2022.

Napa home sales and prices are on the rise, leading to a market where multiple offers are to be expected.

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You can reach Howard Yune at 530-763-2266 or hyune@napanews.com

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Public Safety Reporter

Howard Yune covers public safety for the Napa Valley Register. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.

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