As Napa tries to pull together millions of dollars to build more downtown parking, the city may drop on-site parking requirements in a neighborhood at the edge of its core.

An extension of a special zone farther north on Main Street, up to and just past the Clinton Street crossing, won the Planning Commission’s unanimous support last week. The border shift would absorb six new parcels into a district where builders can pay into a city fund for future parking construction, rather than try to squeeze room for vehicles onto parcels and reduce their buildable space.

The expansion, which requires the City Council’s final approval, is meant to help Napa add to its reserves for a future garage intended to soak up an increase of visitors as hotels, restaurants and stores continue opening downtown. A parking structure with 350 to 400 slots is expected to cost at least $12 million, and Napa is looking for commitments to fill an estimated $3.4 million gap.

Officials also are weighing a major increase in the parking impact fees Napa charges developers for each additional space required – from the current $7,500 per vehicle to $20,000 or more.

One of the six newly parking-exempt properties is 1300 Main St., a vacant lot where the Wiseman Co. of Sacramento won city approval last month for a three-story office and retail complex slated for completion in the spring of 2017. That plan included a separate condition that Wiseman pay the city for 57 future garage spaces rather than build the same number on-site, a step the builder said would have been unworkable.

Also entering the special district are a vacant building that once housed a furniture store and a Salvation Army thrift shop, as well as another building that formerly housed Nor-Mar Fabrics. Shackford’s appliance store, the 1313 Main Street wine bar and Toy B Ville are the other properties gaining the parking exemption.

The six parcels are the only sites zoned for downtown commercial uses that lack the exemption.

Napa’s first expansion of the parking-exempt zone in more than a decade affects an area at the northern edge of downtown, where taller buildings like the three-story home of the AUL insurance company stand close to older, low-slung storefronts just north and private homes to the east.

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During the two-year city review of the 1300 Main St. building, several homeowners and shop owners spoke out not only against that project but against freeing any new construction from parking requirements, predicting that unchecked development would worsen street congestion near their homes and leave residents competing with visitors for curbside parking.

Some of those opponents again shared those fears at Thursday’s commission meeting.

“Napa is a national jewel, and what you do now will affect the future of your community,” Harris Nussbaum told city planners. “When you overcook food, you spoil it. I fear that if you overcook Napa, you will spoil this jewel.”

Despite such concerns, commissioners called the change necessary to fund parking expansions as soon as possible – and prevent employees and visitors from locking up prime vehicle spaces on busy streets and in residential districts.

“I am sensitive to the (fear) of going too quickly,” Beth Painter said before the vote. “But we’ve got to move quickly to collect fees for a garage. The garage is something that has to be built.”

“This will help provide the resources — i.e., the money — to alleviate the tension for these neighbors,” added Commissioner Michael Murray.

Napa is working to boost and reallocate its parking supply while it seeks more garage funding. In June, it opened a temporary 147-vehicle lot off West Street, at the site of the demolished Cinedome theater, and Economic Development Manager Jennifer LaLiberte said the city also may carve out 70 more interim spaces off Third Street near the Napa Valley Wine Train tracks.

In addition, city staff is working toward creating a paid-parking system for downtown streets and lots starting in mid-2017, in hopes of nudging all-day parking toward the more distant garages and increasing the turnover of busier curbside spots.

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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.