A plan to build a rare, new Napa Valley hotel outside of the cities is receiving close examination long before reaching its day of judgement, with housing for employees among the concerns.
The Napa County Planning Commission on Wednesday held a “scoping session” for The Inn at the Abbey. This proposed 79-room hotel in several buildings would be at the Freemark Abbey winery complex on Highway 29 north of St. Helena in the unincorporated county.
Planning Commissioners didn’t give thumbs up or down. Rather, they and the public talked about what topics they want included in the project’s upcoming draft environmental impact report.
Housing was a major issue. That’s because the expensive local housing market forces many hospitality workers to live in other counties and commute long distances to work. Commissioners expressed concern about further exacerbating the problem.
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Commissioner Andrew Mazotti said he doesn’t expect hotels to solve Napa County’s housing problems.
“But I do feel strongly that hospitality developers should be doing their part,” he said, with other commissioners agreeing. By that, Mazotti said, he means housing that actually gets built.
Attorney Rob Anglin on behalf of the applicants said the goal is to negotiate a development agreement with the county that addresses housing and other topics.
The Jackson family, owner of Freemark Abbey winery, wants to build The Inn at the Abbey on adjacent, commercially zoned land at Lodi Lane and Highway 29. To make room, the applicants would demolish three buildings totaling 10,048 square feet that are permitted for use as a restaurant, wine shop, art gallery and five-room motel.
Coming to the property would be 78,481 square feet of new construction, complete with buildings, walkways, breezeways, patios, courtyards and landscaped areas.
The biggest of the proposed new buildings is the 55,000-square foot, 50-room north hotel. This split-level structure rising 45 feet tall at its highest point is to have an underground, 54-stall parking garage, a spa, rooftop terrace and retail stores.
A two-story south hotel main building is to be 11,100 square feet with 11 rooms. A 7,500-square-foot south hotel “barn” is to have 12 rooms, with adjacent fitness studio and plunge pool. Two bungalows totaling 4,000 square feet are to each have three rooms.
An existing Freemark Abbey stone building is to be used for the hotel’s main lobby. The hotel is to have 48 workers in addition to the 55 workers already at the Freemark Abbey site.
Antonia Allegra said she and 11 other families live on Byrd Hill Lane on the opposite side of Highway 29 from Freemark Abbey. She spoke to commissioners by phone during public comments.
“We’ll be watching about noise and amplified music and more noise coming from additional traffic and events,” she said.
Byrd Hill residents don’t want to have to wait for long periods to turn onto Highway 29 because of Freemark Abbey complex events, she said.
Lois Ann Battuello said in a letter that the project site is near the West Napa fault. Battuello suggested the county protect itself against liability by advising early on of the fault line that makes the site unsuitable for commercial development.
Planning Commission chairperson Dave Whitmer asked how the draft environmental report will deal with earthquake faults.
Buildings will be constructed to California building code standards, said Cori Resha of Ascent Environmental, which is working on the document. The code has specific requirements to address seismic matters. The applicant did a geotechnical report.
Potential earthquake impact is considered less than significant and won’t be analyzed further in the environmental report, she said.
Battuello also questioned the aesthetics of the proposed hotel.
“This thing would appear as the Emerald City arising from nowhere to forever alter views from Highway 29 … just looming above everything,” Battuello wrote to the county.
Anglin and the Jackson family had little to say about the proposed project, other than answering questions from commissioners.
“This is an opportunity—in keeping with the purpose of the scoping session—to listen,” Anglin said.
People who want to comment on what should be considered in the upcoming draft environmental impact report can contact Trevor Hawkes at Trevor.Hawkes@countyofnapa.org by Aug. 24. The document will disclose possible project impacts, possible mitigations and feasible project alternatives.
“Decision-makers can modify or deny a project, even if there are no impacts found,” Resha said.
A draft environmental impact report should be released in winter or spring of 2021, with a Planning Commission hearing in spring 2021. A final environmental impact report with answers to comments received could come out in summer 2021, Resha said.
Finally, the Planning Commission could hold a hearing on the final report and consider The Inn at the Abbey project in summer or fall of 2021.
Since at least 1965, The Freemark Abbey property has had a blend of commercial and agricultural uses. For example, in the early 2000s, the property had two restaurants, the application said.
Today, Roadhouse 29 restaurant is located on the Freemark Abbey property, in the restored stone building that could also serve as the hotel’s guest lobby.
The Planning Commission in March approved a hotel in the unincorporated county. This was the 50-room Oak Knoll hotel between the city of Napa and Yountville, on land that has vacant buildings from the former Red Hen development.
Watch: Music in the vineyards@home (2020)
You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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