SodaCanyonRoad | Oak Knoll Hotel
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Oak Knoll Hotel


Bill Hocker | Mar 4, 2020 on: The Hotel Binge


Update 3/4/20
3/4/20 Planning Commission video
3/4/20 Planning Commission agenda and documents

In perhaps one of the more interesting discussions from a policy standpoint in the last so many years, the County Planning Commission seems to be saying that approval of the Oak Knoll Hotel EIR might require the applicant make a real solution to the housing need created by the new jobs at the project. Either through a COA that so many units of a market-rate housing project elsewhere will be made affordable by the applicant or that the applicant will be directly involved in the creation of affordable rate units elsewhere. This new emphasis on providing housing follows the concern of nearby Yountville mayor John Dunbar expressed in this letter. And following the example of Gasser allocating affordable housing specifically to support its hotel project.

The applicant has proposed an increased one-time contribution to an existing housing project to subsidize the costs of providing affordable housing at the time of the building permit is issued. (Say toward to Napa Pipe's affordable housing units.) One developer contributing to another developer? hmm. Planning Commissioner. Mazotti, a developer himself, has the most significant comments in all this and he does have concerns about tying this payment and the permit to vagaries of the execution of another project.

$1 mil seems to be the amount the applicant has offered as a one time contribution.

Planning Director Morrison acknowledges that building affordable housing is really expensive and tying the contribution to the building of new units might be ineffective. The county does have a worker proximity housing fund which might be a better place for the contribution. That fund is for home buying rather than rent, and hence would probably preclude most new workers in the county.

He aid the 150 units at Napa Pipe cost $30mil, or $200,000 per unit (which seems really low to me compared to this in-constructtion recent example). $1mil would provide 5 units for the 33 employees of the hotel, i.e. at most 30% of the new housing need created assuming 2 employees per house. Napa Pipe has also taken 12 years of convoluted effort to begin. On the other hand, $1mil divided as monthly rent subsidies of say $1000 per month per unit would amount to 5 years of subsidies for the 33 workers assuming 2 workers/unit.

This whole discussion and the COA that the Commission wants to add, represents a major policy issue that should be made through the BOS on a county wide basis applying to all new projects, including wineries, industrial buildings, as well as resorts and hotels, that add to the affordable housing need in the county. The easiest COA might be to add a condition that for each employee of the project, a yearly payment, or a one time payment covering say 10 years, is made by the owner of the property that amounts to the difference between affordable and average market rate housing in the county. Employees could then draw from that fund (presumably a more inclusive worker proximity fund) to supplement their housing pay. How that fund is administered and regulated, since it would be substantial and need a lot of bookkeeping, might require a greater effort than the county currently makes on the worker proximity fund. As a major effort to combat the housing crisis and make developers and owners factor in the impacts they create, some similar policy would be a landmark piece of legislation. It is a decision that needs to be made by the Board and not the Commission.

The FEIR was certified 3-0 with Gallagher no and Hansen gone, with the added COA that $1mil would be handed over upon issuance of a building certificate, to another housing developer or to the county's proximity workforce housing fund.

Update 2/28/20
NVR 2/28/20: One rural Napa County hotel wrapping up, another on the horizon

The Oak Knoll Final EIR will be certified by the County Planning Commission on Mar 4, 2020. The meeting agenda and documents are here. It is the only item on the agenda.

And now a new winery hotel is being proposed, The Inn at the Abbey, following on the Farmstead Hotel at Longmeadow Ranch and the Hall Winery Hotel. It is only a matter of time, perhaps when the next recession occurs, before a push will come from the industry for a change in the WDO to allow overnight accommodation in addition to food service. As we've seen, it is difficult to limit the profits to be made from tourism entertainment solely to the major wineries. The vanity vintners want in on the act.

The trend seems fairly predictable. The consideration of food service as an agricultural process has been promoted by the industry and legalized in successive ordinances since 2008.

Update 1/23/20 Oak KnollFEIR
NVR 1/23/20: Proposed hotel on Solano Avenue wins Napa County Planning Commission praise

And there you have it: "Planning Commission Chair Dave Whitmer said the commission wouldn’t consider a hotel in this area if the property wasn’t zoned commercial. But it is." Zoning changes are a one-way street: urbanizing density can only be increased, not decreased. The future urban development of the county is assured.

Update 1/2/20 FEIR
The Final Environmental Impact Report of the the Oak Knoll Hotel project is done and will be presented at the Planning Commission on Jan 22, 2020.
Hearing Notice
County's Oak Knoll Hotel page
Oak Knoll FEIR, comments, responses
NVR 1/2/20: Napa County answers questions about proposed Solano Avenue hotel

I had forgotten that I had submitted a letter on the project. (It was the 6/30/17 entry below). Ascent's response to one point in the letter restates a circular argument made often by EIR consultant's to less environmentally impactful alternatives:
An alternative using the project site for agriculture would not meet most of the project’s objectives as presented on page 2-1 of the DEIR and would not be considered feasible.

Less impactful alternatives are infeasible because they are not what the developer wants to do. As is the case with most of the winery projects being approved in the county, this project's actual objective, given its suitability as prime vineyard land, is simply to make more money from the land than can be made with agriculture. To dismiss the feasibility of raising crops because a developer wants to make more money than agriculture can provide is a slippery slope in a place with the purported objective of preserving ag land. The slide has well begun.

Update 7/5/18
NVR 7/16/18: Napa Planning Commission gets a first look at rural Oak Knoll hotel project
NVR 7/5/18: Proposed Solano Avenue resort under environmental scrutiny by Napa County

Update 6/22/18 DEIR
A Draft EIR for the Oak Knoll Hotel project is now available.
The Notice of Availability is here
The DEIR is Here

Original Post 6/30/17
NVR 6/29/17: County studies proposed Oak Knoll hotel on rare rural commercial property
Yountville Sun 6/29/17: Neighbors Not Sold on Oak Knoll Hotel Project

County Oak Knoll Hotel page
EIR Notice of Preparation

Given the relentless explosion of hotel projects in Napa, it is only a matter of time before overnight accommodation is included in Napa County's definition for agriculture - just as food service and party events are now - to allow for their construction in the vineyards. The Oak Knoll Hotel, filling up a parcel on a legacy commercially zoned parcel surrounded by Agricultural Resource zoned land, is a forerunner of a trend that will become increasingly common in the current development frenzy to convert agricultural land to more profitable use. We already have the examples of the Carneros Inn and the Poetry Inn and the approved resort at Stanly Ranch. And the always threatened Altamura hotel at Trancas and the Trail. A highly respected grower-vintner is also proposing a hotel adjacent to one of his wineries and recently another winery hotel is being proposed by the Halls. Again, as with Oak Knoll, the zoning may allow such projects, but the incorporation of overnight stays into the heart of the agricultural landscape, even more impactful than the event-center wineries currently being approved throughout the vineyards, sets a precident that will up the pressure to change the definition of agriculture to allow inclusion of such use on a routine basis.

The county policy in the General Plan that applies to this legacy property use, Policy AG/LU-45 states that :
    "With respect to Policies AG/LU-44 and 45, due to the small numbers of such parcels, their limited capacity for commercially viable agriculture due to pre-existing uses and/or size, location and lot configuration, and the minimal impact such commercial operations and expansions will have on adjacent agriculture or open space activities or the agricultural and open space character of the surrounding area, such limited development will not be detrimental to Agriculture, Watershed or Open Space policies of the General Plan."

This parcel is eminently viable for agricultural use, leased perhaps to the owner of the adjacent vineyards. This project will not have a "minimal impact". The impact of a 50 room hotel, 33 employees and 109-space parking lot, on the open-space character of the surrounding vineyards plus the increased traffic and water and sewer concerns such a project presents, should be a point of contention between the county and the developer. Perhaps the various alternatives presented by staff to the planning commission represent some pushback from the county. But it is not enough.

An alternative not presented in the DEIR (which might be considered "2c-No Project-Existing Entitlements Alternative (Agricultural Restoration)") is the use of the property for agriculture. Money can actually be made growing grapes in Napa County. It is not a taking to disallow building construction on prime arable land at the center of the Napa Valley.

Paradise is being paved over in one building project after another as the official guardians of the county's rural heritage continue to promote development interests, hoping to bolster government coffers while really just adding to the government expense of maintaining a more urban environment.

This project is an opportunity to mitigate that development trajectory and suggest that the urbanization that is currently nibbling away at Napa's agricultural land, with building projects approved at almost every planning commission meeting, can not only be slowed but in fact reversed.