ST. HELENA — Plans to revamp a former mobile home park south of St. Helena are already drawing heavy fire from members of the St. Helena City Council who say the owners are trying to build what amounts to a hotel.
“The whole thing looks semi-fraudulent,” Mayor Alan Galbraith said during the June 12 City Council meeting. “Maybe strike the word ‘semi’.”
According to the application filed by vintner Kathryn Hall, the former Vineland Vista Mobile Home Park already has 18 spaces for mobile homes and recreational vehicles, as well as four permanent buildings that have historically contained rental apartments. She’s seeking permission to convert the four “stick-built” units into mobile home spaces so that they can accommodate modern manufactured homes.
That conversion wouldn’t change the overall number of 22 units and “does not change the overall intensity of use of the property,” according to the application, which also proposes to donate a 2-acre parcel behind Dean & DeLuca for farmworker housing.
Council members said they need more details about exactly what the project is. The county forwarded plans to the city depicting two-story structures with small pools and rooftop decks, an event pavilion, an event lawn, a large pool with a terrace, and a two-story clubhouse containing concierge space, a kitchen, dining room and fitness room.
Councilmember Peter White described it as “a hotel, essentially” on the site of the old mobile home park, which tenants were told to vacate in 2009 after Hall announced plans to redevelop the property.
White compared the proposal to Calistoga Ranch, a former RV rental park that was converted into a luxury hotel and time-share development.
Vineland Vista is on county land south of the St. Helena city limits, but the county invited the city to comment on the project, which would use city water. The property already has a single 1.5-inch city water line that used to serve the mobile home park.
“They need to have an 8-inch fire hook-up to be able to push this forward, and I don’t know that we’re under any obligation to hook them up,” White said.
“If we’re going to do anything there, we should annex it,” he added.
Overnight stays are a possibility
Jeff Dodd, an attorney for the Halls, said the project is still evolving, and the council had been reviewing “preliminary plans that are more conceptual as opposed to final.”
He said the property owners have spent about seven years working with the county to renovate the mobile home park because it was in very poor shape, with substandard living conditions, structural problems, and health hazards like asbestos and lead paint.
“Overnight stays are certainly a possibility” under the new project, Dodd told the Star.
He said the park could operate under a model similar to Calistoga Ranch but “on a much, much smaller scale,” since Vineland Vista would still be a permitted mobile home park.
Anyone staying overnight for less than 30 days would have to pay the required transient occupancy tax (TOT) to the county, Dodd said.
Vintner Kathryn Hall told the Star that the property might ultimately offer nightly rentals, but it’s too soon to say for sure.
“I don’t know what it’s going to end up being,” Hall said. “We’ve spent many years working with the county trying to find an acceptable way to develop the property that was viable from our perspective but that’s also responsive to the community’s needs. At this point we’re still in discussion with the county.”
Dodd said the project would benefit the city of St. Helena by creating much-needed farmworker housing on the separate parcel behind Dean & DeLuca.
Hall said the old mobile home park never contained regulated affordable housing, although rents were low enough to attract low-income workers. She said she’s never intended to develop affordable housing on the Vineland Vista property, but she hopes the new project will create farmworker housing at the other site.
“We have over many years tried to find ways to address the affordable housing shortage in the county as a whole,” Hall said. “We feel really strongly that the community needs to step up and do our part wherever we can.”
At last week’s council meeting, White questioned whether farmworker housing could be built on the parcel behind Dean & DeLuca, due to serious septic problems at the adjacent commercial complex.
The council objected to the project being treated as a “minor modification,” which the county reserves for applications that “do not affect the overall concept, density, intensity or environmental impact” of a property.
Minor modifications may be approved by a county zoning administrator without a public hearing. However, the Hall application also requests a development agreement that will require public hearings before the Napa County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.
Napa County Planning Director David Morrison said in an email that the applicant is “still refining the project and staff has not yet finished its analysis.” He estimated that the earliest possible county hearings would be in September.
The City Council should “stand up quite strongly and object to the way that they’re trying to process this,” said Councilmember Mary Koberstein. Instead of a minor modification, she suggested that Hall should apply for a new use permit, a rezoning, or an expansion of the Hall winery.
Koberstein quoted a county memo from 1969 stating that any expansion of Vineland Vista would require a new use permit rather than a modification.
She also said that since the lot is smaller than the county’s 20-acre minimum for mobile home parks, the project could be an expansion of a legal non-conforming use, which is strictly limited under county code.
Koberstein also quoted county code that talks about preserving “permanent affordable housing” on small mobile home parks like Vineland Vista that were permitted before the 20-acre minimum went into effect in 1970.
Hall said the application is considered a minor modification because the new project would continue to serve 22 residences, just like before.
“We are trying to keep this with the same type of impact on the property as it has historically had,” Hall said.
Dodd said the project wouldn’t change the property’s square footage, water use, number of units, or number of individual owners.
Project would use city water
The council identified potential impacts on traffic and water use, and questioned whether the property owners had abandoned their rights to city water in the years since the mobile homes were removed.
Dodd shared an email from city staff from 2014 stating that the city’s water meter was already serving 22 units on the site. The city would simply be continuing that service, he said.
Galbraith said the city would need “at minimum” a water agreement confirming that the project couldn’t use more water than the old mobile home park did.
Dodd told the Star the project wouldn’t increase the property’s water consumption. It might even use less water than the old park, thanks to more efficient low-flow water fixtures, he said. The owners plan to have the new buildings LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified, a stringent environmental certification that was awarded to the Hall winery.
The property previously drew the city’s attention in 2009, when the owners told tenants to vacate the mobile home park. The council passed a resolution in January 2010 urging that the property be maintained as affordable housing, preferably as a mobile home park.
Some of the tenants sued the park’s owners and settled out of court. The terms of the settlements were not made public.