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Former Health and Human Services Campus (copy)

Napa County on Friday took bids for its former Health and Human Services Agency campus on Old Sonoma Road.

Caritas Related LLC is willing to pay $7.5 million to buy Napa County’s 8.6-acre former Health and Human Services Agency campus on Old Sonoma Road and turn it into a major site of housing development.

“Affordable homes and market-rate homes,” said Randy Redwitz, CEO of The Caritas Corp., a nonprofit group that has teamed up with developers Related Co.

The next question is whether Napa County will accept the bid for the surplus land at 2344 Old Sonoma Road. That’s up to the county Board of Supervisors on Aug. 27.

Caritas Related LLC passed the first hurdle. Napa County’s bid selection committee—Deputy County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan, Deputy Public Works Director Liz Habkirk and Bill Kampton of Colliers International—agreed that the lone bid meets the county’s criteria.

Irvine-based The Caritas Corp. describes its mission as uniting people to preserve affordable communities that uplift residents. Its website lists 16 communities, including ones in Vacaville and Rohnert Park.

Details of what Caritas Related LLC wants to do at the Old Sonoma Road site have yet to be released. Caritas officials said they need to work with the city of Napa and the community on the plan. The project is to include retail/commercial.

Caritas already is involved with another, much smaller city of Napa affordable housing project on another Old Sonoma Road site. It is to work with Pacific Hospitality to build 12 rental homes on three-quarters-of-an-acre.

Whoever ends up with Napa County’s Old Sonoma Road land will have to work with city of Napa to get it rezoned for housing. The development project that emerges will also have to gain city approval.

Napa County is selling the site “as is,” which means the buyer must demolish old Health and Human Services Agency buildings to clear the land. The fate of three buildings in particular is likely to command attention.

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These three Mission-style buildings along the site’s iconic crescent driveway date from 1912 and 1934 and were part of the long-gone county infirmary. Local historic preservation advocates want them incorporated into the design for a housing project.

The buildings last year became part of National Register of Historic Places. But such status doesn’t protect them from demolition, if the owner-to-be so desires.

Caritas officials on Friday said the partnership intends to investigate if the buildings can be saved. Caritas Related LLC plans to work with Brooks Street, which has expertise in restoring and refurbishing older properties, they said. Brooks Street is an owner of Napa Valley Wine Train.

Napa County Landmarks listed the old infirmary buildings and crescent driveway as number one on its 2019 list of “Ten Most Threatened Treasures.” It noted the buildings were damaged in the 2014 South Napa earthquake.

Napa County in 2017 came up with a preliminary plan to bring 172 apartments and townhouses to the Old Sonoma Road site. The plan also called for demolishing the three historic buildings to free up more land for housing. The idea never went to the Board of Supervisors.

Ultimately, the Board of Supervisors decided to leave the planning up to the eventual buyer, rather than try to sell a pre-city approved project.

Napa County has owned this land along Old Sonoma Road since 1869. It used the site until 1973 for the county infirmary, then for mental health services and other programs and finally as its Health and Human Services Agency campus.

The Health and Human Services Agency moved in August 2016 to the South Campus in Napa Valley Commons. County officials decided the now-surplus Old Sonoma Road site is perfect for housing, given the housing shortage and the site’s location amid a residential neighborhood.

“We have a future generation that needs us to do the right thing to make housing available to them,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said in May.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.