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Former Health and Human Services Campus (copy)

Napa County is preparing to seek bidders to buy its former Health and Human Services Agency campus on Old Sonoma Road in the city of Napa. 

Napa County wants to sell its former Health and Human Services Agency campus, which would let others decide what kind of housing community is built there and whether historic buildings remain.

The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday discussed options for the 8.6-acre surplus property at 2344 Old Sonoma Road in the city of Napa. The upshot is supervisors intend to vote at a future meeting to put the land on the market.

Gone is the county’s original idea of having a site plan approved by the city, clearing the land and selling a ready-to-build project to a private developer. A draft 2017 county plan calling for 172 apartments and town houses stalled amid neighborhood misgivings, never going to the Board of Supervisors, much less to the city.

Also gone is the idea of selling the land to the city to use the vacant Health and Human Services Agency buildings for a temporary city hall, given the city’s plans for building a new city hall are in flux.

Rather, the county plans to start the bidding at $7.5 million and sell the land as is, buildings and all. The buyer would go to the city to have the land rezoned for residential uses and seek approval for a development plan.

“We’re trying to see something birthed but we’re not in charge of what’s going to be born there, necessarily,” Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said.

Ever since the Health and Human Services Agency relocated in 2016, the county’s goal has been to bring housing to the site. That’s still the case.

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

With the new, more hands-off approach, the county will rely on the city and state law to reach this goal. State law requires that at least 15 percent of housing built on land acquired through surplus property sales meet state affordable housing criteria.

Supervisors on May 21 could adopt a resolution to sell the land. The county could release a request-for-proposals for potential buyers in June and sell the land by year’s end, Deputy Public Works Director Liz Habkirk said.

Several supervisors said they’ve heard from potential buyers. Deputy County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan said potential buyers for three years have expressed “keep-us-on-your-list” level interest.

One issue to be decided – but no longer by the county, apparently – is the fate of three Mission Revival and Prairie-style buildings along the site’s distinctive crescent driveway. They are left over from the site’s days as the county infirmary.

No one is contesting that most of the buildings at the old Health and Human Services Agency site should be demolished. These three buildings are the exception.

Napa County in 1910 chose prominent local architect William Corlett to redesign the main infirmary building and design two adjacent buildings. The preservation group Napa County Landmarks pushed in 2018 to have the three buildings and crescent area listed by the National Register of Historic Places.

Napa County Landmarks recently placed the buildings on its “Ten Most Threatened Treasures” list. Group members attended Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Keeping the three historic buildings and crescent driveway means less space for apartments and condominiums. The county, wanting to maximize housing, called for removing the buildings and driveway in its draft, never-approved 2017 site plan.

“I want to make it very clear that Napa County Landmarks has never opposed housing on this site. Never,” Jay Jacobson of the group told supervisors on Tuesday.

Napa County Landmarks wants the county to aim the development community toward an appropriate project. That would be one with appropriate design, density, neighborhood compatibility and treatment of historic resources, Jacobson said.

Nancy Snowden lives near the Old Sonoma Road property and gave the perspective of a neighbor.

“I believe the residents of the surrounding area are ready for change,” she said. “Most understand the best use of this site will be for housing. But of what type and what nature?”

She talked of a future development that would have moderate density, provide workforce housing that people would own, keep the historic buildings to provide identity and pride, have green spaces and be integrated with the community.

But the role the county will have in the details of the outcome seems to be diminishing.

“At this point, I’m saying, ‘Let’s get ourselves out from between the city and the potential property owner and developer that’s going to come in here,’” Wagenknecht said.

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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.