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Napa County takes pause on Old Sonoma Road project

Health and Human Services Campus

Napa County is pausing to further deliberate on the future of its former Health and Human Services complex on Old Sonoma Road. The fate of three century-old structures on the property has not yet been decided.

Napa County is taking a time-out on its drive to bring affordable housing to its 8.6-acre, former Health and Human Services Agency campus on Old Sonoma Road.

The county Board of Supervisors was scheduled to discuss a staff-recommended site plan for the controversial project next Tuesday. That session has been postponed indefinitely, perhaps until the end of summer.

After holding three well-attended public workshops and receiving numerous comments, county officials are stepping back to reassess the situation.

But the county’s goal remains the same — to ultimately sell the land to a developer who will build affordable housing.

“I think you always have to pause and make sure you do it right,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said.

Some speakers at the open houses expressed concern that the county would try to cram in too much housing on the Old Sonoma Road site, leading to traffic and other problems for neighbors. Others spoke of the need in the county for affordable housing.

The county in May released a site plan calling for 172 apartments and townhouses two-to-three stories tall. To make room, the property’s distinctive crescent driveway, the lawn within it and three century-old buildings along it — reminders of the property’s history as the county infirmary — would be removed.

That site plan was to go to the Board of Supervisors.

The Old Sonoma Road Neighborhood Coalition countered with a site plan of its own. The group called for 100 housing units and for retaining the three buildings, crescent driveway and lawn.

“The main thing we really want people to know is we’re not doing the NIMBY thing,” group spokeswoman Marva Lougee said in May. “We’re not saying ‘No housing.’ We’re saying that housing should go in.”

The old infirmary buildings are one of the flashpoints. A previous county study on the Old Sonoma Road site found the buildings to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Deputy County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan said the county might reconsider the recommended site plan. Also up for reconsideration is the way the county could proceed with the project.

The original idea had been for the county to have the land zoned for a certain density of housing by the city of Napa, with the county in the unusual role of an applicant to the city. Then the county could sell a ready-to-build project to a developer, ensuring a certain amount of affordable housing is built.

Rattigan said another idea is for the county to work with a developer before bringing the project to the city.

The county is doing something new and there are lessons to be learned, Pedroza said. Whatever housing project is done at the Old Sonoma Road site should add value to the neighborhood, he said

“All options are still on the table,” Pedroza said.

Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht wants to see if the three century-old buildings that were once part of the county infirmary might be saved in a way that makes sense for the county.

He doesn’t see a county use for buildings that county officials say could take $7 million to renovate. But perhaps another party could rehab them for housing or move them elsewhere for a new use, he said.

Wagenknecht mentioned the example of the earthquake-damaged Art Deco post office in downtown Napa that the U.S. Postal Service wanted to demolish. A buyer stepped forward and plans to incorporate the 1930s-era building into a hotel.

He wants to see if a similar happy ending can be found for the Old Sonoma Road buildings. “That for me is one of the important things the pause can do for us,” he said.

Napa County’s property at 2344 Old Sonoma Road became available for a new use after the Health and Human Services Agency moved to a new home last August. The county hired the consulting firm MIG to help it with twin goals — to bring housing to the site and to bring money to county coffers through a land sale.

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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.

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