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General Plan

Napa committee discusses greenbelts to slow development at city’s edges

The latest version of Napa’s planned playbook for the next 20 years of growth includes the possibility of zones with heavily restricted development, sought by the residents of scenic neighborhoods on the city’s western and southern flanks.

A draft land-use plan reviewed Monday by the city’s General Plan Advisory Committee includes areas marked as “greenbelts” near Timberhill Park in the Browns Valley section of west Napa, as well as on a hilly Old Sonoma Road tract where the Napa Oaks housing subdivision project has aroused intense opposition and two City Council vetoes over the past two decades.

Earlier drafts of the next Napa general plan, intended to guide city growth and zoning through about 2040, had marked those areas for “very low density” for up to two homes per acre, alarming residents worried about encroaching into some of the city’s largest remaining open spaces – sloped and wooded areas that neighbors describe as prone to earthquake and wildfire damage.

Officials with Dyett & Bhatia Urban and Regional Planners, the Oakland firm consulting Napa on its new general plan, said the revision is meant to better fit the city’s current zoning and land uses. In the case of the Timberhill and Napa Oaks areas, greenbelts would hew closely to existing rules labeling those zones as “resource areas” allowing no more than one home for every 20 acres.

The picture remains more complex for a 144-acre tract between Foster Road and Highway 29 in southwest Napa, an area with expansive valley views where the Ghisletta family once operated a dairy farm. The area also is home to the Napa Valley Horsemen’s Association center.

Despite longstanding pre-designation for a blend of single-family and multi-family housing, the draft reviewed Monday envisions more than 35 acres of greenbelt on the Ghisletta area’s east side, as well as 24 more acres of open space and parkland. But a memo from city senior planner Michael Walker cautioned that the update reflects only the site’s constraints on development and is not meant to be folded into the land use plan – and that Napa should leave open the possibility of housing development, based on a future master plan focusing on that area.

“It remains Staff’s position that, following the adoption of the General Plan, a Specific Plan, Master Plan, or similar process will be warranted to ensure that future development of the Ghisletta property is cohesive and implements the vision of the Draft Land Use Plan,” he wrote. “The Ghisletta properties represent an integral part of the City’s ability to provide a needed variety of housing.”

Meanwhile, committee members scrutinized the report’s growth forecast under the draft plan, not only in population and homes but also the city’s hotel industry.

Citing the state Department of Finance’s projections, Dyett & Bhatia predicted Napa’s population would rise from an estimated 79,278 last year to 96,100 by 2040, a 21% increase. The city could gain about 6,700 housing units for a total of 37,400, add 1.3 million square feet of retail space to reach 6 million, and boost office space by 928,000 square feet to reach nearly 3.4 million.

The number of additional hotel rooms over 20 years also could reach 2,460, leaving the city with 4,060, according to draft documents.

However, some members of the committee cautioned that numerous social trends – some of them triggered or sped up by the nearly year-old coronavirus pandemic – could scramble Napa’s forecasts and force a rethink of how the city can or should grow, with travel curbs keeping vacationers away, many shops shut down or on limited service, and online retailing taking an ever-bigger role.

Napa’s population losses in recent years – combined with the lingering effects of COVID-19 and the 2020 wildfires on winemaking and hospitality businesses – make rapid population growth unlikely, according to committee member Lauren Ackerman, who cautioned against overly aggressive housing forecasts.

“I’m concerned that if we overshoot this number, we will be way behind in some levels, and residents won’t be living in some of these units, because we won’t have the jobs if they don’t come back in the time frame we’re talking about,” she said. “… We have to plan for potentially a major impact for many years to come.”

On the other hand, Napa housing developer Bob Massaro asked city officials to be ready for a shift of workers from cities to suburbs, including those who have worked from home during the pandemic and can now seek out cities like Napa farther away from their former offices.

“The past six to eight months, Napa has had a huge growth spurt in home sales because people are leaving the cities and moving to the suburbs, and we’re considered a suburb,” said Massaro, who is CEO of the Healthy Buildings design, construction and management companies and was appointed to the city Planning Commission Jan. 5.

Committee member Patrick Band questioned the projected growth of Napa’s hotel-room stock, given the existing concerns about residents about neglecting housing and businesses to serve the local community.

“Recognizing the city is not the one developing these hotel rooms, I’m very concerned about that number,” he said. “I’d like to explore what other uses those lands may have besides hotel rooms. I’m very concerned that our community won’t be comfortable projecting over 4,000 hotel rooms in the city.”

Drafts of the general plan are expected to go to the city Planning Commission for review during workshops in February and March, according to Walker.

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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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