On Tuesday, Napa’s elected leaders declared their willingness to support a redevelopment plan for 5.4 acres around Pearl Street where the Cinedome once stood, so long as the focus is on creating room for homes and cars.
And in trying to make it work, members of the City Council hinted they could accept higher, denser housing construction than Napans have seen in the heart of town – both to help relieve a persistent housing crunch and to win over builders skeptical of the success of lower-cost residential construction.
“I can see a point in more housing density and height,” said Jim Krider, one of four councilmembers scrutinizing the project at City Hall. “To have affordable housing pencil out, you have to have a little more density and a little more height.”
In reshaping the Cinedome’s old environs between Main Street and Soscol Avenue, the plan would blend residential and commercial uses on eight properties owned by the city, the theater’s former owner SyWest Development of San Rafael, and the Napa Sanitation District, which controls land north of Pearl Street opposite where the six-screen movie house once stood.
Despite the unified vision of the plan, transforming the Cinedome area’s various parts may not happen at the same speed. SyWest, which still controls the old theater site currently serving as a temporary parking lot, is free to develop its land at its own pace, and the eastern part of the Napa Sanitation lands will require extended flood controls on the Napa River to become buildable.
With such uncertainties in mind, Councilmember Doris Gentry urged the city to focus on the land it already owns in the neighborhood – starting with a piece behind Main Street’s Kyser-Lui building Napa that has been marked for a parking structure for more than 300 vehicles estimated to cost $12 million or more.
Gentry rated a new garage nearly as crucial to downtown’s vitality as more housing, pointing to growing visitor demand at restaurants and shops inside the Kyser-Lui, whose tenants include Cole’s Chop House, and nearby.
“While I love having a whole plan lined up, the garage is what I see as the emergency (need) for businesses downtown,” she said. “It’s something we owe to the city, and it’s something we’ve pledged and promised for years but haven’t delivered.”
If Napa gains funding to extend its flood wall system and make full use of the Napa Sanitation lands, up to 105 dwellings could be created if built on both sides of Pearl Street, according to the plan, which the city Planning Commission reviewed last month.
Napa Sanitation’s block, currently occupied by a dormant pump station and a skateboard park, could contain up to 45 townhomes, according to the plan, which is being developed by San Francisco architect Colin Alley.
On Pearl Street’s south shoulder, a multistory, multi-use building would include ground-level retail and restaurant spaces, with housing, offices or a combination on the upper floors. Other Napa-owned properties south of the theater site are intended to become open space or a public plaza, guiding visitors to the Oxbow Commons downtown park.
Though project documents list a hotel as one possible element of a refreshed Pearl Street neighborhood, Councilmember Peter Mott quickly shot that idea down. “The one thing I am not interested in here is a hotel,” he said, pointing to the proliferation of high-end lodgings in Napa and developers’ applications to build hundreds more guest rooms in the city.
A local developer, however, cautioned Napa leaders that the city must allow more height and concentration if it hopes for builders to tackle the difficulties of downtown construction – particularly when a requirement of on-site vehicle space for homes all but demands the use of costly, profit-eating sunken parking instead of garages and carports.
“We need to the raise the height limit in this area,” Wayne O’Connell told the council, calling new housing around Pearl Street “not viable” without changes in the city’s general plan guiding development. “If not here, then where? Where do you put the increased density in downtown Napa?”
Napa Sanitation General Manager Tim Healy also suggested changes he said would make new homes easier to support, including building heights up to 45 feet and street-level storefronts on the district’s landholdings.
Amid the talk of parking and housing, the owner of Cole’s Chop House asked Napa leaders to nail down firm arrangements for customer parking and truck deliveries once construction begins, to avoid leaving businesses like his in the lurch.
“That back parking lot (on the former Cinedome site) is the lifeblood of our businesses” in the Kyser-Lui building, said Eric Keffer, a supporter of increased downtown parking. “During construction, there is a lot of lean time before it turns green again.”