In the months leading to Tuesday night’s Napa City Council meeting, a developer pursuing a new Marriott in the south of town faced stiff resistance from local advocates demanding it do more to create lower-priced housing – the kind affordable to those likely to work at such a hotel but ever scarcer in the North Bay.
With a pledge to create a dozen new housing units, Pacific Hospitality Group, the creators of the Meritage Resort and Spa off Highway 221, has finally gained city approval for its latest project, a nearby Marriott that will add 253 rooms to the city’s growing stock of tourist lodging.
In a 4-1 vote, council members granted permits for the development, which will feature a four-story hotel split between two of Marriott International’s sub-brands. The main building will include 153 rooms under the AC Hotel name, used for lodgings aimed at younger vacationers, while the remaining 100 will be extended-stay rooms under the Residence Inn flag aimed at business travelers. Rounding out the project will be a 26,000-square-foot winery and grape-crush center, a two-story office building and 441 parking spaces.
The victory for the hotel plan came after a late addition by developers – the acquisition of a ¾-acre parcel on Old Sonoma Road and a promise to build 12 dwellings to be rented to families with below-median incomes.
A purchase of the property was in escrow as of Tuesday, according to Anthony Zand, a Napa attorney representing Pacific Hospitality, which opened the Meritage in 2006. He declined to identify the property until the purchase is completed.
“We’re committed to this path because it’s the right thing to do,” said Zand.
The developer made its move after the Planning Commission called on it to deal with the housing supply with more than cash, even as it endorsed the hotel on May 31.
Pacific Hospitality will partner with The Caritas Corp., a nonprofit housing developer in Irvine, to create the affordable housing as a condition of the housing permit. A pact with Napa would keep rents below market rates for 55 years, said Caritas chief executive Randy Redwitz.
Members of the Napa Housing Coalition, who have urged the city to require direct housing construction by future hotel builders, called Pacific Hospitality’s offer a step in the right direction but pointed at the gaping shortages that remain.
“If you approve this hotel, you are making the housing situation worse,” said coalition member Bob Massaro, a local housing developer whose firm is creating the Napa Creek Village condominiums on First Street. “I know that sounds harsh, but you are.”
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Still, Mayor Jill Techel declared herself satisfied with Pacific Hospitality’s effort to contribute to the local housing stock beyond its city-required $1.1 million payment into the Napa housing fund, which she estimated would pay for as few as two homes.
“I asked them for something different, something more that gets housing built,” she said before the vote. “I challenged them to do something different and creative, and they did it.”
Peter Mott cast the only dissenting vote. He questioned not only the Marriott’s effect on housing and traffic congestion, but also the idea of removing land at the Napa Valley Commons originally intended for offices and light industry when the complex – formerly Napa Valley Corporate Park – opened in the 1980s.
“It’s not only about the housing,” he said. “It’s about industrial space that we won’t be able to put the next manufacturer into.”
Councilmember Doris Gentry, however, argued that the industrial park’s takeover not only by the Meritage but by wine production, storage and offices already is well under way, and that Napa should embrace those uses rather than await purely industrial tenants unlikely to seek out the wine country.
“We all wish our industrial corporate park was like other industrial corporate parks that employ thousands of people making widgets, building parts for Boeing planes,” she said. “But we have thousands of square feet of vacant buildings for sale and land to be built upon.”
How adequate a dozen low-cost dwellings will be to counteract the effects of more hotel workers was a point of lengthy debate Tuesday. Although a 2017 study suggested as many as 238 employees could work at a future Marriott, Zand, the developer’s spokesman, countered that similar-size Marriotts already owned by Pacific Hospitality are staffed by 80 people or fewer – largely because AC Hotel and Residence Inn properties are priced lower than downtown luxury hubs like the Archer Hotel and offer fewer amenities, thus requiring fewer workers.
The Marriott will be equipped with a bar but not a restaurant, and guests will receive free shuttle service into downtown Napa and its array of eateries, according to Zand. “We encourage people to go downtown, to enjoy the culinary treasures of the city,” he told the council, saying the hotel would increase visitor trips to the city center while its shuttle fleet reduces car trips on local streets.
Zand gave no timetable for the start of construction, saying only that work would begin “as soon as we can.”