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Land-use authorities in Napa first questioned the design of a 250-room hotel planned in the south of town. Now their concerns have turned toward housing those who would work there.

A year after their first glance at a Marriott-branded hotel envisioned for the Napa Valley Commons near Highway 221, the Planning Commission on Thursday wrestled with whether revenues from another large-scale lodging could outweigh the strain that an inflow of modestly paid service workers could place on an already stretched and costly housing supply.

After lengthy debate, planners delayed by two weeks an endorsement vote on the project, which is being proposed by the owners of the nearby Meritage Resort and Spa. But their struggles with the Marriott plan’s cost-benefit balance – coming one day after a Napa council member called for a moratorium on new hotel applications – pointed to a shift in the discussion about the tourism industry’s effects on local housing, traffic and quality of life.

“There’s no viable concern for the workforce” where housing is concerned, concluded Commissioner Paul Kelley, pointing to the absence of a plan to contribute to affordable housing beyond a $1.1 million payment into a city fund.

“When you consider the Meritage Resort, Meritage Commons and now the (Marriott), you have about 700 rooms – and there’s a cumulative impact from project after project after project at a site remote from downtown,” he told a representative of Pacific Hospitality Group, whose flagship Meritage opened in 2006 and has expanded several times. “We’re being asked now to approve two for the price of one.”

“We have to look at how lodgings affect the quality of life for residents of the city of Napa,” said Commissioner Beth Painter, adding that rising housing costs have made the issue impossible to ignore.

A vote on the hotel development was set for a special Planning Commission meeting on May 31, with the developer able to appeal to the City Council in case of an unfavorable decision.

The focus on how to house hundreds of hotel workers was a sharp change of emphasis from the Marriott plan’s debut in June 2017, when planners criticized the design for being too bland and unexceptional for a site at the intersection of Napa-Vallejo Highway and Napa Valley Corporate Way – one of the busiest southern gateways into the city and the wine country beyond.

Pacific Hospitality returned to City Hall with refreshed designs that swapped much of the metal on the facades with wood and modified the roofs, changes that spokesperson Kory Kramer said would better fit the architecture to Napa County’s rural surroundings.

As in previous designs, the hotel complex would be split into a 153-room AC Hotel aimed at younger vacationers and a 97-unit Residence Inn extended-stay lodging for business travelers – each with its own exterior and interior styling touches, but sharing laundry and other services with each other and the Meritage. A Trinitas-branded winery capable of producing 50,000 cases a year also is part of the project, as well as a two-story office building.

On Thursday, however, debate over the hotel’s appearance took a back seat to whether its creators are willing to pay their fair share of the expenses it may bring.

Planners took up the hotel’s future in the wake of a recently released city report that forecasts about 630 more hotel workers, if 60 percent of the 2,112 proposed new rooms are approved and built. Such growth, however, would require 324 more dwellings to meet the demand – and 233 of them would need to be affordable for families with middle and lower incomes.

Councilmember Peter Mott earlier this week wrote a letter to the editor tO the Napa Valley Register supporting a temporary halt to hotel approvals while the city studies its housing options, although he held off on officially proposing it to the council for now.

A local advocate, however, did not hold back.

“This hotel is in the wrong spot at the wrong time,” Chuck Shinnamon of the Napa Housing Coalition told planners. “It creates some hotel tax, but it doesn’t make a lot of other (positive) benefit.”

Shinnamon predicted the project’s $1.1 million payment into Napa’s fund for affordable housing could result in as few as two new subsidized dwellings. “I’m sorry, but that doesn’t cut it,” he said.

Kramer, in reply, predicted millions in fresh city revenue from the development – about $9.1 million in room taxes during the hotel’s first five years, plus $4.35 million in property tax. (A ballot measure Napa is weighing for the Nov. 6 election may raise the bed tax by a percentage point to 13 percent, with the additional funds earmarked for housing assistance, if at least two-thirds of voters approve.)

Difficult as the housing question is, though, other planners saw a purpose for a new hotel, especially to attract would-be visitors priced out of high-end hotels downtown and luxury resorts Upvalley. Michael Murray saw a lower-price hotel as a way to capture visitors currently bedding down in American Canyon or out of the county altogether, in Vallejo.

Commissioner Gordon Huether recused himself from the hotel discussion, citing Pacific Hospitality as a “source of income.”

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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.