Plans to develop a hotel at Napa’s Oxbow area hit a stumbling block on Thursday night.
After a two and a half hour hearing, the city Planning Commission declined to recommend the hotel’s approval to the City Council, but commissioners said they would forward their concerns to the City Council which makes the final decision.
The Commission took issue with the mass and the location of the proposed Oxbow Gateway Project on First Street that is to feature 74 hotel rooms spread across a pair of four-story buildings.
Announced by the developer JB Leamer in August 2016 and originally branded Foxbow, the complex would occupy both sides of the Wine Train rails at the southeast corner of First Street and Soscol Avenue, at the edge of an Oxbow district that has become an increasing focus of Napa tourism in recent years.
Each building at First and Oxbow would contain 37 guest rooms, with space for street-level retail stores and two levels of underground parking. The complex would include an interior courtyard and private terraces, along with a swimming pool, spa, fitness center, conference and meeting space, and a cafe featuring a sculpture garden, according to plans filed by Leamer.
“It is a good architectural project,” said Commissioner Mike Murray on Thursday night. However, “it kind of sticks out of place with other buildings in the Oxbow area. That is one my major concerns.” He would support a smaller building, he said.
“This is a really challenging site,” said Commissioner Beth Painter.
“But, there are a number of unanswered questions,” including the grading of the two-level underground garage, removal of mature trees and paying a fee instead of providing employee housing, she said.
Commissioner Paul Kelley was “very concerned about creating a wall between First Street and the Oxbow district. The architecture is compelling but there’s too much height and mass for me to support it,” he said.
Developers offered a $1 million contribution to city’s affordable housing fund in lieu of building such housing themselves. That’s 33% more than they are technically required, pointed out developer JB Leamer.
But commissioners questioned whether the donation instead of building housing was acceptable.
“I’m really dissatisfied with the proposal” in that regard, Painter said.
“This is not a new message,” said Painter. “We hear this on every single project.”
Additionally, Painter wondered if the hotel would be viable economically. “I need more assurances that this is a project that is actually going to get built.”
Several Napa residents spoke against the project, mostly for not providing employee housing and removing mature trees from the area.
Joelle Gallagher, representing the Napa Housing Coalition, said “we are really concerned that we seem to continue to hope that a solution will arrive that addresses the housing impacts created by these seemingly small projects.
“The applicant said housing would be addressed. Unfortunately there is no discussion as to how the applicant proposes to resolve employee housing issues. Where are folks going to live? It’s highly unlikely that most will live in Napa. This hotel should not be approved until the developers present a proposal to address the significant housing impacts they create,” Gallagher said.
Sharon Macklin, chair of board of directors at Napa nonprofit Puertas Abiertas, also questioned the housing plan.
“I hope that developers who have a commitment to the city would want to provide housing for people making beds and doing landscaping and working in the restaurants,” she said.
Leamer said he was obviously disappointed at the non-recommendation.
“We’ve followed the downtown specific plan,” he said. “We’ve taken the staff recommendations. They all signaled that they were in favor of it. It’s tough to come back now and hear ‘we’re not.’”
This is the most prominent corner in town, said Leamer. “This is your gateway. I’m not sure seeing the blighted end of Water Street is what we have in mind to represent our city.”
“This would represent Napa in a very positive light,” said co-developer Mary Beth Herman. “It’s an appropriate use of the space. I’m disappointed by what we’ve heard.”
On another matter, the Planning Commission and Cultural Heritage Commission moved to continue the review of the Franklin Station hotel project to within the next 10 days.
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You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or firstname.lastname@example.org