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An effort to recast an historic but faded downtown Napa landmark into a retreat center will get its first verdict from city land-use authorities on Thursday.

The Planning Commission will study the plan by Marc Porat and his wife, Claire Tomkins, to convert the Thomas Earl House at 1221 Seminary St. into a 10-room facility to be leased as a family retreat and as think-tank venue for business groups.

Three buildings would be added to the Italianate-style home in the Calistoga Avenue historic district – a carriage house and and two cottages, which Porat has said are needed to make the retreat center financially workable.

No vote has been scheduled.

Named for Thomas Earl, a prominent Napa citizen of the 1860s, the home was built in 1861 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, the landmark had deteriorated in recent years before former owner June Beeler sold the property in 2017 to Porat and Tomkins, who in January of this year announced their plan for a guest center at the site.

In February, the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission gave the project a generally favorable review and supported the couple’s efforts to preserve a piece of architecture from Napa’s earliest days. However, some residents in the Calistoga Avenue district expressed worries about the more modern design of the companion buildings that would join the landmark home, while others called the on-site parking plans insufficient for a neighborhood that already contains existing bed-and-breakfast inns as well as the Blue Oak School.

Also slated for an early look from planners is an auto showroom proposed for 473 Soscol Ave. as the new home of Hanlees Subaru, which currently shares a building with Don Lee’s Volkswagen dealership just north. The showroom is the second construction project proposed by Lee, who is seeking to build a Chrysler hub at 459 Soscol Ave.

The one-story Subaru building would include 17,138 square feet of floor space along with a service center on a 2-acre plot north of the Gasser Building, and would be accessible from a Soscol Avenue driveway and the recently opened western extension of Saratoga Drive. Plans filed with the city include outer cladding of aluminum, with a large glass area in front and a dark-colored tower.

In other business, commissioners will vote on a streamlined process to grant permits for turning bedrooms, garages and other surplus space into accessory dwellings, the latest effort to remove roadblocks from housing creation amid chronically high rents and tight supplies. The ordinance would create a single path for reviewing such junior housing units for most residential properties, requiring only one permit instead of two in most cases.

Currently, those seeking to create an accessory dwelling must go to the Planning Division for an administrative permit, which requires review from Napa’s public works, building and utilities divisions as well as the fire department. Afterward, a property owner submits construction plans to the Building Division for a building permit, in a process that includes reviews from the same city staff members.

Under the ordinance, most Napa homeowners would need only a building permit to start work on a secondary dwelling. Dual permits would be required only if the main home is on the city’s registry of historic resources, the annex is more than 15 feet high, or if the new unit is closer than 3 feet to a side or rear property line.

The rule change also would remove a limit on the floor size of secondary dwellings that has capped their size to below 50 percent of the existing home’s living space, although a 1,200-square-foot maximum remains.

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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.