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Napa Braces for Massive Brownfield Development

One of the least scenic ways to visit Napa Valley is to enter from the south, through the industrial zone between the cities of American Canyon and Napa. The congested traffic and office parks near Highway 221 are a long ways from the idyllic pastoral stretches to the north.

But efforts to transform 152 acres of industrial land in the area into a mixed use development has stirred up opposition from Napa Valley residents who fear that its proposed 2,600 units and 6,000 residents � smaller than all but two of the county's cities � will bring sprawl and traffic out of scale with the region's character. The developer, however, claims that the project will actually ease congestion by providing a place for local workers to live, rather than commute from neighboring Solano County.

On the former site of Napa Pipe Corp., a manufacturer of large oil and gas pipelines, the project is proposed near the intersection of Highways 221 and 29, in an area that already has many of the county's non-farm jobs, according to developer Keith Rogal. And, in a region famous for empty, vineyard-flanked country lanes, it also has some of the worst traffic in the county.

Rogal's firm, Rogal+Walsh+Mol, specializes in converting already-developed properties near wetlands into new uses. A decade ago, the firm built the Carneros Inn resort on 27 acres of unincorporated county land that had been an RV park. The project, which includes cottages and homes set in a village setting with shops and restaurants, garnered national awards from the American Institute of Architects and the Congress of New Urbanism.

But Rogal is the first to concede that the Napa Pipe is a different type of project. For starters, it is particularly dense for Napa County, with proposed apartments and townhomes rising to seven stories; it would also include retail, an office park, a small hotel and a continuing care complex for seniors. The property is next to the Napa River, and is envisioned as a walkable community. A marina, river trail and parklands are part of the project's mix. As proposed, Napa Pipe would be the largest project in county history.

The Napa Pipe development would add approximately 6,000 new residents, on a site about two miles from the Napa Municipal Airport. Some opponents say the new project would be akin to plopping down a new town the size of St. Helena in the area. Quite unlike the baronial estates of wine country, Napa Pipe will have nearly 2,600 apartments and townhomes, with 20 percent set aside as affordable units. The project is expected to help Napa County meet state-mandated affordable housing goals.

Critics of the project include the nearby cities of Napa, Yountville and American Canyon, along with agricultural and environmental groups, such as the Napa County Farm Bureau and the Sierra Club. Rogal also noted that some small local developers oppose the project. The project is adjacent to the city boundaries of Napa, and is located about three miles from Napa's downtown.

In comments on a recent draft of the EIR for Napa Pipe, the City of Napa requested that EIR be substantially revised. The city has not been swayed the project's provision of affordable housing and said in a 47-page comment letter that it would prefer to build affordable housing that the project is supposed to provide within its own borders.

But the county is moving ahead, said Hillary Gitelman, Napa County's conservation, development and planning director. "We're still evaluating all the comments," she said. "We haven't identified any fatal flaws that make us start all over again."

A final EIR should be ready later in the year and come before the county's planning commission and board of supervisors for a vote soon thereafter. Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, whose district includes the city of Napa, said that with two supervisors up for re-election in November, a vote on the project could be delayed.

Wagenknecht, who hasn't taken a position on the development, said two major concerns are traffic and water usage. The project is expected to bring 17,600 new trips a day, he said. "It will add to a situation for us that feels like it's already broken."

The draft EIR identifies more than ten intersections in the area that are currently near capacity.

Rogal's firm contends that Napa Pipe could minimize traffic impacts by becoming a transit-oriented development if train service could be introduced on tracks that run across the property. They are even proposing water taxi service to the City of Napa via the Napa River. The project also envisions highway improvements and an extension of a bike trail through the property in order to mitigate traffic concerns. Even if the project wins approval, it could be years before construction begins, Gitelman said, noting that the site has to be raised for flood protection, and remediation needs to be done on soil contaminated by the sites former industrial uses.

In comments on the draft EIR, the Napa Valley Farm Bureau criticized the project. President Jim Lincoln noted that extensive mitigation is required, "most of which has questionable financing and little chance of being implemented in the short or intermediate term." Opponents of the project tried to derail it in June 2008, when they placed a ballot initiative to impose a 1 percent annual growth cap and height limits on unincorporated county land as Measure N (See CP&DR, May 2008 and June 2008). The measure lost, garnering 46 percent of the vote. But one leading opponents said another ballot measure could return if county approves the project.

"One of our options would be to do a referendum if they approve it," said Mel Varrelman, a former county supervisor and opponent of Napa Pipe.

If approved by the Board of Supervisors, residential units at Napa Pipe won't be constructed until 2013, Rogal said.

Rogal said only 200 to 300 units will be built annually, and full build-out is a decade away. Napa Pipe will also provide its share of money for traffic improvements and for schools, he said.

"The population and car trips will increase on a slow pace over a long period," he said.

The Napa Pipe land sits on 3,000 acre feet of groundwater, Rogal said, more than enough for its needs. But Wagenknecht said that the county generally encourages groundwater to be used for agriculture.

"There's a priority of groundwater being for agricultural use, but every hotel in the county pumps groundwater," Rogal said.

Rogal said the developers have acquired additional water for the site, and will recycle water as well. More water would be used if the site stays in its current industrial designation, rather than with his project, he noted. Contacts:

Hillary Gitelman, Napa County Conservation, Planning and Development Director (707) 253-4805 Brad Wagenknecht, Napa County Supervisor, (707) 253-4386 Mel Varrelman, former Napa County Supervisor (707) 963-1040 Keith Rogal, Rogal+Walsh+Mol (707) 251-0123 Napa County website, with draft EIR and comments, is at www.countyofnapa.org Nape Pipe project website is www.aHomeforNapans.com

 
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