We at Friends of the Napa River are very pleased that Napa City is working towards implementing a new vision for the Oxbow District. Indeed, Friends is currently participating with others in the Oxbow District Task Force.
Realizing that the 2012 Downtown Specific Plan was inadequate in addressing the Oxbow District, the City retained an Urban Land Institute (ULI) panel in 2017-18 to research and recommend what might be done to address the unique elements in the Oxbow. There was great concern that adopting Downtown densities and heights would be inappropriate in this special neighborhood.
The 2018 ULI report was clear that the Oxbow District should be treated as its own unique area separate and distinct from the Downtown. It emphasized that the Napa River should be the focus of the District and that it should celebrate the River creating access and recreational opportunities. Further, the report recommended maximizing the District's river and hillside views, that it be human scale with lower heights and massing, be pedestrian-friendly, eclectic, and artsy, all of the qualities loved by locals and visitors alike.
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Unfortunately, the City continued to approve development projects in the Oxbow without taking the ULI recommendations into account. Yet there also appeared to be recognition from city staff and leadership and from the community that further work needed to be done for the Oxbow District.
Unfortunately, for all of us, the 2020 COVID outbreak forced many initiatives to be put aside; with its staffing and budgetary challenges, the city had bigger and more daunting trials to face.
With budgets and staffing levels improving, the City's Economic Development Division, under Neal Harrison's leadership, retained two highly regarded advisors to re-engage a broad range of stakeholders. Their task was to determine if the 2018 ULI recommendations were still applicable and if there was a consensus on priorities for the Oxbow moving forward over the coming years. After dozens of interviews and site visits, their report with its recommendations was made public on Aug. 30, 2021.
Overall, the 2021 update echoed many of the recommendations contained in the 2018 ULI report, especially with a focus on the Napa River along with the expansion of the River Trail and improved access to the River.
There were a number of key recommendations:
- Expansion of the boundaries of the District "...refine the area of the Oxbow District so that the river is "the center" of the District and not one of the boundaries of the District."
- Building small and retaining the Oxbow District's unique character.
- Nurturing public life and celebration and showcasing of the Oxbow's heritage.
- Crafting and implementation of a comprehensive parking plan.
- Celebrating and expanding the usage of the Oxbow Commons Park.
- Establishing a path to creating a shared long-term vision for the Oxbow District.
The report closes with recommendations to our city leaders and to the community for a shared way forward. The Board of the Friends of the Napa River wholeheartedly encourages the city to move forward expeditiously to develop a separate Specific Plan for an enlarged Oxbow District that will enable this invaluable part of our town to evolve so that we and future Napa generations will fully embrace it.
Simply, echoing allowable heights, densities and approved for the main downtown would not, in our view, fit that vision. We are solidly in support of "building small and retaining the Oxbow District's unique character."
Friends of the Napa River
Board of Directors