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One of the newest hotel proposals to arrive in Napa may present one of the city core’s prettiest faces. What city leaders need to decide is whether that façade fits within its would-be surroundings.

The 66-room, four-story Foxbow received a first look Thursday from the Planning Commission, a year and a half after developers floated plans for the development in Napa’s Oxbow district. Even as planners praised its design, they asked its would-be creators and themselves how many more rooms should join the growing number of lodgings that have transformed the downtown area, with more on the way.

Planning staff already had asked Napa’s land-use authority to be mindful of placing new multistory attractions amid the low-rise homes and shops that traditionally filled the Oxbow, and some commissioners took that advice to heart.

“It basically blocks any (chance) to see Copia or the Oxbow market,” Michael Murray said of the hotel’s possible effect on the streetscape and the district’s main attractions. “It gives a vision that the hotel is the only thing that is there.”

Though the debate was an early step in Napa’s evaluation of Foxbow – with no vote taken or scheduled – it highlighted the possible challenges in reconciling the tourism that increasingly drives the local economy with the desire to keep a neighborhood’s character and scale.

Introduced in August 2016 by the Napa developer J.B. Leamer, Foxbow would comprise two buildings – each containing 33 guest rooms – flanking the Napa Valley Wine Train rails at First and Water streets and Soscol Avenue. It would become an anchor in a neighborhood increasingly targeted by tourists during the past decade with the opening of the Oxbow Public Market and the revival of the Copia food-and-wine exhibition center.

Both halves of Foxbow would house central atriums and street-level retail spaces, and the west building also would include a spa and gym, with meeting and conference areas planned for the east building. Two-level underground parking in each structure would accommodate a total of 118 vehicles.

Concrete boards, wood siding and metal would comprise the exteriors, which are to be topped by corrugated metal roofs. Yellow awnings would shade storefronts along Soscol and First, and the buildings would be equipped with balconies for each suite and terraces for fourth-floor units and the roofs.

Napa architect Casey Hughes called the design an attempt to combine attention to detail with a size less imposing than at other downtown hotels.

“We think a smaller hotel, a casually elegant building, is the right thing for Napa – a point of interest between the Oxbow and downtown,” he told city planners. “We think this can contribute to a lively and elegant downtown.”

The site, however, also lies close to properties already targeted for hotel development in Napa’s thriving vacation market. City planners last year approved another four-story hotel, the Black Elk, on the opposite side of First Street, and the Wine Train has announced plans for its own hotel on the site of its rail depot on McKinstry Street – a building that also faces the Westin Verasa.

Commercial buildings reaching the district’s 60-foot height maximum are an ill fit to the neighborhood, argued Napa resident Linda Kerr.

“I’m not opposed to its vision and its architecture; I just don’t believe it belongs in this location,” she said, describing the Foxbow as more a wall than a gateway on First Street. “… I don’t believe we need more hotels; what we do need is downtown housing. Oxbow is a laid-back, scaled-down version of downtown, and it works quite well that way.”

Elizabeth McKinne was more direct, asking for a moratorium on new hotel projects and calling on Napa to preserve more of its older architecture. “We have a four-story hotel, proposed next to a four-story hotel that’s already been approved, where there should be no four-story hotels at all,” she told commissioners.

Despite such worries – and despite much of the plan remaining in flux – Commissioner Alex Myers declared he accepts the Oxbow’s modern-day role as a tourist target as a fait accompli, and that future buildings shouldn’t be ruled out based on height alone.

“The Oxbow to me is a tourism-oriented district,” said Myers, who also described the building plans for the Foxbow as “a very high-level design.” “On First Street, height doesn’t strike me as a concern. Heights in this area have been gradually increasing, and I don’t necessarily consider it inappropriate.”

Of more concern to Myers than the size of a new hotel building was the question of how to create housing for those who would work there, a preoccupation shared by the other planners amid Napa’s steadily rising rents and home prices.

Leamer, the applicant, did not immediately disclose any housing-related plans but told city staff he is seeking some solution “that does more good than paying a fee,” referring to the payments large-scale builders place into a Napa fund for affordable housing.

As the city and developer continue refining the hotel’s design and layout, work also remains in laying claim to the land it will occupy. Foxbow’s eastern wing requires land currently held by the Napa County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, which has not yet granted an easement for the project.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.