After years of negotiation, redevelopment of Napa Pipe will become a reality.
For decades, this parcel of land along the east banks of the Napa River was the hub for manufacturing plants, but now, it’s little more than an expanse of concrete and a ghostly reminder of the county’s industrial past. Basalt Rock Company once owned this 154-acre brownfield site. Later, Kaiser Steel bought the property, and during World War II, ships and other ocean-going vessels were built there. The last major manufacturing business on the site was Napa Pipe, a major employer in the area, which was owned by Oregon Steel Mills. There, large steel pipe was manufactured while the river and a nearby railroad were used to transport the product. Today, the area is still known locally as “Napa Pipe.”
When Napa Pipe closed its doors in 2004, there were several offers for the land, which had been underused for several years. Site contamination stemming from decades of manufacturing was a factor in the bidding. Ultimately, there were 18 bidders for the property, but the highest came from Napa Redevelopment Partners, an LLC comprised of Rogal, Walsh & Mol developers and Farallon Capital Management. The land was sold in late 2005—and that was the beginning of the soon-to-be-dubbed “Napa Pipe” redevelopment project.
Napa Redevelopment Partners initially envisioned creating a picturesque, compact community of 3,200 housing units in walkable neighborhoods that would include markets, restaurants, parks, offices, a hotel and other commercial space. And while some city and county officials were intrigued by the inspiration behind the development proposal, the city of Napa opposed the project because of its size and its potential impact on the city’s resources and its residents. Further complicating the matter, the property was entirely located within the county’s jurisdiction, and city officials were worried their concerns and goals might be overlooked. For example, while the developer, city and county officials agreed this key riverfront site was in dire need of revitalization, there were major concerns about the size of the development, use of ground water and traffic. This marked the beginning of countless discussions and meetings between city and county officials to reach an agreement.
It may well be the largest and most controversial development project in county history. Nevertheless, the Napa County Board of Supervisors finally voted in late May of this year to approve a mixed-use development at Napa Pipe. Supervisors Bill Dodd and Keith Caldwell helped mediate the deal with Napa Mayor Jill Techel and City Councilwoman Juliana Inman. According to Dodd, this agreement can serve as the basis for a renewed partnership between the city and the county. “It was a long time coming, but important things don’t happen overnight,” he says. “It took a lot of trust to get the city and county to come to this agreement and, in the end, it was about protecting agriculture for the county.”
“The key part of the agreement is that the city agreed to take on 80 percent of the county’s housing requirements now and in the future,” says Caldwell. “The importance of that is that next time we have to file a housing element, we’re not back in the same predicament. It took us seven years to get through this process, but this is a huge benefit for generations to come. Now Napa County can concentrate on doing what it does best—managing health and human services, the criminal justice system and offering continued support to its $11.5 billion agricultural community.”
A seven-year odyssey
There have been numerous attempts and setbacks for the Napa Pipe project, resulting in a seven-year odyssey of deliberation and debate over reuse of the site, which is located about three miles south of downtown Napa.
“When the first plan for redevelopment was circulated, it contained 3,200 dwelling units in buildings up to seven stories tall as well as intensive commercial development," says Inman. After lengthy discussions between two county and two city officials, the city offered what Inman refers to as the “70 percent solution,” whereby the city would accept 70 percent of the county’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) obligation for three RHNA cycles (21 years) while the county would retain the industrial zoning rights on the Napa Pipe site. “Those talks ultimately failed,” says Inman. “They didn’t think it would work.”
There was also the matter of jurisdiction. “I’ve felt from the start that when this property was going to be developed as housing, it needed to be part of the city of Napa,” says Mayor Techel. “There were a lot of traffic issues with a development of that size and they also proposed to use ground water, which has always been reserved for agriculture, not housing,” she explains. Other major concerns included a lack of affordable housing units, school impacts, toxic cleanup, floodway issues and financial feasibility.
“We tried various work groups through the years as we tried to figure out the best way for this property to move forward,” says Techel, who has served as mayor since 2005. “My goal has always been that, if this property is to be developed as housing, it should come into the city of Napa so we don’t have an unincorporated ‘city’ on our border. If the project becomes part of the city of Napa, then the city serves it water and there’s no need to use ground water.”
According to Dodd, the county was most concerned with protecting agricultural zoning.
City and county officials initiated discussions on services, revenue sharing, future annexation, housing allocations and other issues. Meanwhile, the project had both critics and supporters. “Everyone was concerned with the size and scope of the [original] proposal and, in the end, it was just too big. This would’ve been the largest development in the history of Napa Valley and our community wasn’t ready for that,” says Dodd.
Among the biggest concerns with Napans was an anticipated increase in traffic, which some believed would come from an increase in population. “But when you look at census data, the traffic is from lack of housing growth,” explains Dodd. “We’re importing 29,000 jobs. People are coming here to work, and we have a responsibility to act accordingly. We need housing for our workforce, and we need to promote that our workforce lives closer to the jobs.”
According to Inman, nearly an equal amount of residents are leaving the area every day for jobs in other locations. Between the influx and the commuters, the roads are clogged.
The developer spent the early years meeting with individuals and groups interested in sharing their vision for the site. Keith Rogal, one of the founders of Napa Redevelopment Partners, met thousands of residents and gave about 200 presentations about the project. The advice and ideas he and his partners received eventually led to significant changes to the original plan. For example, there will be no homes located on the east side of the property, a school that will serve children from kindergarten to eighth grade has been added on a 10-acre site, and no ground water will be used.
Nevertheless, while discussions continued, everyone was in agreement that this obsolete industrial property needed to be remediated and repaired. Perhaps the greatest equalizer for the community, however, was the possibility of a Costco store.
Last summer, a new, reduced plan was proposed. It featured a 70 percent reduction in dwelling units, a reduced intensity of commercial development and use of surface water, rather than ground water, as the primary source for the project. In May, county supervisors voted on general plan and zoning amendments, which involved land use changes, and those approvals finally paved the way for a new development.
What changed for city and county officials? “We realized that we needed to come to together so we can move the project forward and meet all of our interests,” says Techel. “It’s not easy, but it’s important for two jurisdictions to have a lot of interaction to work together successfully. Part of the elegant solution is that we’ll work together and create a design so we can find the right path.”
An overarching goal has been to partner with the county to resolve some major issues, adds Inman. “These include meeting our state housing mandates, keeping urban development in our cities where we have the needed infrastructure, protecting our ground water and, most important, protecting our agricultural preserve,” says Inman.
“One way we felt we could achieve these goals as a council was to link our offer of accepting much of the county’s housing requirement to the voter-approved ag preserve. As long as we have an ag preserve¾and as long as the city and county continue to meet the obligations of the agreement we’re drafting¾the city of Napa will be providing most of the required housing for the county after 2022. We’ll also pursue a ballot measure to expand the City Rural Urban Limit line to include the Napa Pipe property.”
Now that city and county officials have agreed to a scaled-back, mixed-use development, the real work begins. “Over the next few months, the county will create design guidelines with input from the city, a development agreement will be finalized, and city and county officials will develop a memorandum of understanding in a binding agreement between both jurisdictions,” says Rogal.
A new vision
Napa Pipe is a historic location with a lot of promise, and Rogal envisions a thriving community that features its beauty, especially the view from Napa Pipe to the river. “The essential element is the natural landscape¾the river, the views, the hills and trees. Everything in the site design stems from that as well as its industrial legacy,” says Rogal.
The plan is to clean up the old industrial site, transforming it into a neighborhood that lets residents from a wide range of ages and incomes live comfortably, work close by and meet most of their basic needs within a five-minute walk or ride. “That’s the spirit of what we’re doing,” explains Rogal. “Housing units will be constructed by multiple builders, but there’s a framework and guidelines to follow, so there’ll be a certain harmony without the buildings looking identical. Our goal is to design a great public realm, which includes new public parks, four-fifths of a mile of new riverfront trails and beautiful, tree-lined streets.”
The new, scaled-back plan calls for 945 housing units and will also incorporate more than 34 acres of parks as well as open and green space woven into the community and neighborhoods. The plan also integrates elements of the site’s history, including the large cranes used in building ships.
Napa Pipe’s housing units will offer affordable and sustainable homes in a walkable neighborhood. Units will range in size from studios to three-bedrooms, although the majority are expected have two bedrooms. They will be designed in a mix of row houses, condominiums and apartments that feature roof decks, back yards and gardens to incorporate living space that’s both useful and comfortable. Eighty percent of these housing units will be sold or rented at market value, while 20 percent will remain as affordable housing. The site will also include a 150-unit continuing care community, offering independent and assisted living for seniors.
Construction on homes for the Napa Pipe project will be phased in over approximately the next 10 years. On average, Napa Redevelopment Partners expects that about 70 to 100 homes will be built every year.
At the center of this riverfront location will be a dry dock area, which will feature a variety of water activities such as fishing, a rowing club and a launch for canoes and kayaks. There will also be a 50-meter swimming pool as well as neighborhood retail shops and restaurants overlooking the river. Another dry dock area will be transformed into an outdoor theater.
The new development plan also calls for a 154,000-square-foot Costco, which will be across the railroad tracks along the eastern edge of the site. Not only will Costco make shopping convenient for local residents, it will add a substantial influx of jobs to the area and is expected to provide more than $2 million in new tax revenue to the county.
To reduce traffic issues, the project also offers 40,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space oriented toward the riverfront that would serve the neighborhood; 50,000 square feet of office space, transit and shuttle access; and river access for water taxis and boats.
It’s expected that, upon completion of city and county negotiations, the city of Napa will extend its water supplies to the project, charging outside-city rates so long as the property remains in the unincorporated area. Annexing the site within city limits will most likely be on the ballot in 2014.
The future of Napa Pipe
So what can Napans expect to see in the months ahead? The project design and development guidelines are being finalized now. Clean up and development will begin in early 2014. The goal is that Napans will be living, working and enjoying the Napa Pipe area within three years.
“The site is an important industrial site, much like our tanneries along the river,” says Inman. “The redevelopment will feature clean new businesses for the 21st century.”
What’s more, the developer will provide a new, critical link into the San Francisco Bay Trail as well as the Napa Valley Vine Trail (See “Walk the Walk,” July 2012). It’ll also provide a connection to Kennedy Park, which is located to the north. As a result of this project, the city and county will split the property tax and, once the site is annexed, the city of Napa will receive all sales tax revenue generated by Costco and other retailers, and transient occupancy taxes from the hotel.
“In the end, if the end justifies the means, we did a great job for the citizens of Napa,” says Dodd.
“This has always been a three-party dialog between the city, county and developer,” adds Caldwell. “Now we can move forward with the final design of the project that meets the needs of both the existing community and provides affordable opportunities for those who currently work in Napa.”
The question that remains, however, is this: Will the area known as Napa Pipe retain its name?
Probably not. “It will soon be time for a new name,” says Rogal. “Napa Pipe is an apt name for a great local business —a place where thousands of Napans made a good living producing products of the highest quality. But the company that owned Napa Pipe closed the operation seven years ago. It’s time for a new chapter in the history of this special property. We’ll look forward to the fun of finding a name that honors the place, its legacy and its bright future.”
Located at 1410 Neotomas Ave. in Santa Rosa,NorthBay biz magazine is a monthly business-to-business publication covering Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties. This year, the magazine is celebrating 43 years of continuous operation. It originally hit the stands in 1975, when it was called Sonoma Business, and only covered Sonoma County. Norm and Joni Rosinski and John Dennis, acquired it in 2000 and changed its name to cover an expanded market. Today, the magazine is part of Amaturo Sonoma Media Group. More here..