ST. HELENA — A conceptual plan by Ted Hall to develop an 80-room agriculture-themed hotel in south St. Helena has drawn rave reviews from the City Council.
Councilmembers are encouraging the owner of Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch to file an application for a hotel on vintner Carl Doumani’s vacant property near the corner of Highway 29 and Mills Lane.
Councilmember Sharon Crull said she was “very, very much in favor” of Hall’s conceptual plan, praising the project’s limited impact and potential to generate substantial hotel taxes soon.
“I think it would be a perfect fit for the site and for our town,” she said at last week’s council meeting.
According to city staff, an 80-room hotel could generate $1.4 million a year in hotel taxes for the city. The exact amount would depend on room rates and occupancy. The conceptual plan reviewed by the council did not include any financial information.
Given the quality of the plans, councilmembers said they’d even be open to providing the approximately 4.5 acre-feet of city water per year that Hall estimates the project would need.
Last September the council encouraged Doumani to keep working on his own conceptual plan for an 84-room luxury hotel on the property, but Doumani never submitted an application.
On Tuesday Hall said he has a chance to acquire the 10-acre property from Doumani and link it to the Farmstead property via a lot line adjustment with neighboring property owner David Gold. Hall said he wanted the council’s feedback before moving ahead with the plans.
Councilmember Peter White said Hall’s proposal “greatly improves” on Doumani’s hotel plan, and does a better job addressing the concerns of neighboring property owners like Gold and Doug Stanton.
The council has talked in the past about providing water for projects that generate revenue for the city, “and I think this (project) makes a lot of sense,” White said.
Hall has not filed an application yet, and the council took no action on Tuesday. Their comments were nonbinding, and were intended to give Hall some guidance during the project’s early stages.
Hall said the hotel would be an extension of Farmstead, with a similar design and the same emphasis on “farm-to-table” principles and “excellence through responsible farming.”
Hall’s plan includes 80 rooms, a reception/administration building, spa, pool, and accessory buildings like a barn, smoke house, dehydrator and gardening pavilion.
The resort’s agricultural theme would be reflected through classes and farming demonstrations. Fruit orchards would surround the hotel, with a pedestrian and bike trail connecting it to Farmstead. The plan includes 70 parking spaces.
Hall said he doesn’t think of the project as a hotel. “We think it’s the addition of lodging to Farmstead,” he said. “We’re enabling visitors to our town to have a more immersive experience in our farming activities.”
Since the restaurant would be integrated with the hotel, it wouldn’t need as many new employees as a standalone hotel that would have to provide its own food and beverage service. Hall said his project would require only about 15 or 20 new employees to handle housekeeping and check-in.
Hall said that if he and the city can negotiate a development agreement promptly, construction could begin next fall and the hotel might open as soon as early 2018.
Hotel staff and guests would use La Fata Street and Dowdell Lane rather than Mills Lane to access the property, so the project wouldn’t have to wait until Mills is aligned with Grayson Avenue as part of the Caltrans Highway 29 Channelization Project.
Caltrans plans to install a three-way traffic signal at the corner of Highway 29 and Grayson, and the development of the Doumani property had always been contingent upon the developers paying for a fourth leg for Mills Lane.
Councilmember Paul Dohring called it “an exciting project,” although issues like traffic and water still need to be fleshed out. “I’m in favor of exploring a deal,” he said.
Mayor Alan Galbraith praised the project as “an exceptionally good fit for the city,” with less impact than a traditional hotel. He said he has “an open mind” toward providing city water, given that the project is in the public interest.
Mary Stephenson of the housing advocacy group Our Town St. Helena praised the Hall family as good citizens, but questioned the project’s lack of affordable housing for its workers.
Hall said he’s willing to pay the city’s affordable housing impact fee or allocate money to a specific affordable housing project. “But the scale of whatever we do needs to be judged by some objective criteria,” Hall said.
He said his family business already owns nine employee housing units in the Napa Valley, including one in St. Helena.