Two hundred fifty new hotel rooms in south Napa would require the services of hundreds of workers – with precious few places in town to house them at a reasonable cost.
That problem has in recent weeks dominated the debate over approving a Marriott-branded hotel and a winery near the Meritage Resort and Spa, whose developers floated their latest project more than a year ago. Nonetheless, city land-use authorities kept the plan alive Thursday, allowing Pacific Hospitality Group to take its case before the City Council.
In advancing the project, though, members of the Planning Commission made clear their dissatisfaction with Napa’s high-cost, low-vacancy housing market – and urged hotel developers to find more effective ways to add to the local stock housing attainable for lower-wage hospitality workers beyond paying the required city fees.
“We can’t be continually punting the ball down the field, but we can’t put the burden all on one project,” said Commissioner Michael Murray. “We need to get the city out of thinking of just building buckets of money without any planning, or with very opaque planning.”
Murray’s colleague, Paul Kelley, remained unconvinced that revenue from the planned hotel-winery – estimated at $9.1 million in room tax and $4.3 million of property tax over its first five years – would balance out its costs.
“If you count the Meritage (where an expansion of the 12-year-old resort complex is under way), we’ll have about 700 rooms here, if this is approved,” he said before casting the only dissenting vote of four commissioners. “And how many rooms are there here for housing? Zero. At 700 rooms, we have to do better.”
A City Council vote on the project, which also would include an on-site winery and office building, has not been scheduled.
Pacific Hospitality’s pitch to add to its lodgings off Highway 221 in the Napa Valley Commons – traditionally an office and light-industry center that opened in the 1980s as Napa Valley Corporate Park – has become a target for local housing advocates, who have decried such projects as worsening housing shortages and traffic congestion by paying low wages that compel most employees to commute from beyond the county. While the builder would pay $1.1 million into Napa’s fund for affordable housing, opponents including the Napa Housing Coalition have called that sum far too little to meet the demand another hotel would generate.
“This project does not do anything for our community or for our quality of life,” Joelle Gallagher, who chairs the housing coalition, told planners at City Hall in asking Napa to require direct housing construction by future hotel builders. “We need to stop doing this; we’re in a housing crisis and the Planning Commission has the opportunity to show some leadership. Please do.”
Planners had reviewed the hotel project May 17 but delayed a vote by two weeks, during which time Tony Zand, a Napa attorney representing Pacific Hospitality, said he has contacted the city Housing Authority, Satellite Affordable Housing Associates, Gasser Foundation and other nonprofits to pursue partnerships to build affordably priced housing in the city.
Joining with existing agencies – rather than depending on developer fees alone – would improve the chances of winning state grants and tax incentives for housing projects requiring numerous kinds of financing, Zand told city staff.
“We would like to work with a local foundation; we believe the nonprofits in the area do good work,” he said, pointing to examples like SAHA, the Berkeley-based nonprofit set to break ground next year on the Manzanita Family Apartments in north Napa for tenants on below-median incomes.
The four-story Marriott-branded hotel, to be set on 11.5 acres at Highway 221’s intersection with Napa Valley Corporate Way, would be divided into two parts under different sub-brands of the lodging chain. An AC Hotel with 153 rooms would be marketed to younger tourists, while a Residence Inn would offer 97 units for business travelers on extended stays. Although each portion would receive its own exterior and interior styling, they would share laundry and other services with each other and the Meritage.
A Trinitas-labeled winery on the premises remains part of the proposal, although commissioner Murray called its maximum output of 50,000 cases per year too ambitious and suggested no more than 20,000 cases would be realistic.
Planners, in approving the project’s environmental report, asked for clarifications that would tie the winery’s yearly output to its size, which plans filed with the city indicate will be more than 26,000 feet. The development also is to include an office center with nearly 30,000 square feet spread over two stories.