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Watson Ranch groundbreaking means big, new American Canyon community

Watson Ranch groundbreaking means big, new American Canyon community


Dirt is finally flying for American Canyon’s long-planned Watson Ranch that is to have 1,200 homes built and a century-old cement plant turned into a destination for locals and tourists alike.

"It starts today," Watson Ranch developer Terrence McGrath said at a Thursday ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by more than 100 people.

First, infrastructure such as roads and sewers must go in. From that seed is to grow a 300-acre development over three decades, bigger than anything else being built in slow-growth Napa County.

Thursday’s ceremony took place at the planned Napa Valley Ruins & Gardens. These are the skeletal remains of the Standard Portland Cement Co. that was founded there in the early 1900s.

Napa County’s industrial past is to be transformed into today’s town center and tourist attraction. If all goes as planned, people will someday attend events amid the cloister-like walls of the roofless production building and sip wine inside the wood-and-concrete industrial rotunda.

"Add this to your Visit Napa Valley experience," American Canyon Mayor Leon Garcia said as he stood outside the rotunda.

McGrath agreed. He said the Ruins & Gardens part of Watson Ranch will be a place offering wine, food and music.

"It's really going to shift the balance of power, the balance of centric, not only in Napa County, but also throughout this entire region," McGrath said.

American Canyon’s 2018 Watson Ranch specific plan spells everything out — the trails and open space around the cement plant quarry, the Newell Drive extension to create a major, new city roadway, the 200-room boutique hotel to be near the Ruins & Gardens and, of course, those 1,200 or so homes.

“A memorable place to live, work and play for present and future generations,” is how the plan described the city's aspirations.

Much of the ceremony took place inside the massive rotunda, with its art-and-graffiti-covered walls and sprawling wooden roof with enough gaps to let in rays of sunlight.

"Congratulations, this is a big deal," Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, told the crowd.

McGrath talked about the 17 years he has worked on the Watson Ranch project to get to the point of groundbreaking. He recounted the many "tipping points" over that time, most of which involved people such as the Jaeger family that has owned land there since 1984.

Some people have expressed concern that all this development means more traffic along congested Highway 29. The Watson Ranch environmental impact report listed a range of mitigations, but concluded traffic impacts would be “significant and unavoidable.”

Garcia mentioned the planned Newell Drive extension as helping to address traffic situation. Newell Drive will pass through the Watson Ranch, creating the first Highway 29 parallel route in the city east of the highway.

But, if traffic is a major Napa County issue, so is the lack of affordable housing.

American Canyon has already approved two specific Watson Ranch projects — a 186-unit apartment complex to be called Lemos Pointe for low-income renters and a 98-home subdivision. Another 219-home subdivision is in the planning stages.

"Today's the celebration for a first step," Garcia said. "There will be many more in the future."

American Canyon in October 2019 agreed to a 100-page, 30-year development agreement with American Canyon I, LLC.  That agreement listed such developer obligations for Watson Ranch as building parks and certain roads and city obligations such as sharing taxes generated by the town center project.

A financial study predicted the project will net the city $21.2 million over 30 years, considering the tax income and expenses such as providing police protection.

Once Watson Ranch is fully built out and the tax-sharing has ended, the development should cost the city $4 million annually and bring the city $6 million annually, for a $2 million annual gain, the study stated.

American Canyon celebrated the launching of its Watson Ranch community at the ruins of a cement plant targeted to become a town center.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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