A proposed hotel on a rare piece of property – commercially zoned land amid a hole in the agricultural preserve on the floor of the Napa Valley—has received an initial look by the Napa County Planning Commission.
No one questioned that the 3.54 acres along Solano Avenue between Napa and Yountville needs improvement. The old Red Hen complex of vacant, boarded-up buildings and weeds behind a chain link fence is the status quo.
“Almost anything’s going to be an improvement on what’s there now,” Planning Commissioner Terry Scott said. “It’s an eyesore, basically.”
The question is whether the Oak Knoll proposal is a good fit. Planning Commissioners and the public on Wednesday commented on the project’s draft environmental impact report.
Oak Knoll developers want to demolish the existing buildings at 5091 Solano Ave. and construct a 50-room hotel, spa, 100-seat restaurant and retail space. Some buildings would be two stories and three stories. The site is adjacent to vineyards and rural homes.
The draft environmental impact report focused on the topics of aesthetics, cultural resources, biological resources, noise, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, public services and utilities and transportation. All potential adverse impacts with certain steps can be rendered “less than significant,” it said.
Commissioner Dave Whitmer’s qualm is that the parcel is near to the agriculture preserve. Among other things, he wondered if more parking would be needed if the retail business is a bike rental and the site becomes a park-and-ride for cycling trips on the adjacent Napa Valley Vine Trail.
“I’m concerned about expanding urban uses outside of urban areas, generally, but specifically in this case,” he said.
Commissioner Joelle Gallagher asked where the workers at the hotel would live, given Napa County’s high housing prices. They might be commuting.
“I see that as an additional strain on the roadways,” she said.
Scott said the location at the entrance to the agricultural preserve is perfect for a hotel and restaurant. But, he said, people living near the property are worried about noise, parking and nighttime lighting at the hotel.
“The bottom line is, I’m concerned about the neighbors and the impact they are going to experience,” Scott said. “Most of them have been there for a very long time.”
The proposed underground wastewater treatment and storage system wouldn’t impact neighboring wells and vineyards, if it works as designed. But he’d like to see that the system has been used elsewhere without problems, Scott said.
Commissioners also heard from the public. John Foust lives near the site. He wants to see the dilapidated buildings replaced with something that will be a commercially viable use.
“I have no personal role in this project, but I am a neighbor who supports the project,” he said.
Neighbor Friederike Heidger questioned whether the project is providing enough parking. She said noise from outdoor events could disturb the rural peace and quiet. She is concerned about the building heights.
“The three stories, frankly, I think are way too much,” Heidger said.
Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards said the old Red Hen site has been an eyesore for years and he hopes a new business there will have great success. He has property near the site.
But, he said, the proposed project seems a little out of scope with its three-story buildings.
“It feels like the city is coming into the ag preserve,” Wagner said. “Maybe not as high and maybe a smaller scope.”
Attorney Brian Russell, who represents the Oak Knoll hotel, attended the meeting, though he didn’t address the Planning Commission.
“I am encouraged by the comments,” he said afterward. “I think there is a lot of common ground, based on what I heard today.”
The property has had commercial uses for more than 50 years, before the county had zoning laws or the agricultural preserve, he said.
The final environmental impact report will include answers to public comments on the draft version. County officials said the final report should be finished this fall, at which time the Planning Commission would consider approving the project.