New Life Community Adventist Church

A depiction of the planned New Life Community Adventist Church to be build at 1451 American Canyon Road near American Canyon. The church won Napa County Planning Commission approval on Wednesday.

Napa County has made agricultural land preservation a virtual tenet of faith, but is willing to let 1.8 acres be developed for a sacred use – a church.

“I’m one of those who probably would not be looking favorably on an activity other than agriculture on an ag-watershed parcel,” said Planning Commissioner Dave Whitmer, the former county agricultural commissioner.

But New Life Community Adventist Church chose a rocky property at 1451 American Canyon Road, just east of American Canyon and American Canyon High School. A county report said this site on the edge of a city is small, has poor topography and appears to be unsuitable for farming.

The parcel is “the poster child” for where this type of development makes sense, Whitmer said.

His peers on the Planning Commission agreed. The commission on Wednesday unanimously approved the church project.

Commissioner Jeri Hansen said the church will replace a dilapidated home and will improve the parcel. Churches are at the heart of spirituality and are places for people to gather and celebrate, she said.

“It sounds like a great fit,” Hansen said.

The church began in 2007 and has 80 members. It meets in the Canyon Oaks Elementary School multipurpose room, which entails setting up for each service and bringing in such things as loudspeakers.

“Finally, we just decided we need a new site where we can have our church home,” said John Wambaa, a church elder and treasurer.

The project calls for 11,000 square feet of development, including a 4,000-square-foot sanctuary/chapel that seats 150 people, a 1,700-square-foot fellowship hall and a 3,100-square-foot building for offices and a classroom.

Church service is to be once a week on Saturday. Up to four events with 250 people can be held annually, with some participants to be shuttled from the American Canyon High School parking lot. The church will add a left-turn lane on American Canyon Road.

Water is to come from a well and will be stored in a 20-foot-tall, 35,000-gallon tank, in part for fire suppression. The church will have a septic system.

Commissioner Anne Cottrell asked if the 56-space parking lot might be smaller. The commission in recent months has looked at smaller parking lots in anticipation that modes of transportation will be changing.

“That’s a lot of blacktop,” she said.

But church officials wanted all 56 spaces, in part because they view walking and biking on adjacent American Canyon Road as being dangerous. That means worshipers are likely to be arriving by car.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife in a letter expressed concern that plants such as the big-scale balsamroot and San Joaquin spearscale might be present. It wants a biologist to look at the site during blooming season and, if the plants are found, to either avoid them or add mitigation measures.

Wambaa said after the meeting that construction on the church should begin next year. Timing depends in part on the botanical surveys that must be done in spring.

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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.