Napa Pipe earns green endorsement

James Noonan

As the fight over the proposed 2,580-home development at Napa Pipe rages on, a Bay Area conservation group has thrown its weight behind the project.
Last week, the Greenbelt Alliance — an environmental group that has been advocating for open spaces in the nine-county Bay Area for more than half a century — officially endorsed the Napa Pipe proposal, saying it provided a unique opportunity for Napa to manage its future growth.

“We looked at the proposal and looked at the other places that this type of development could go in order to meet the county’s housing needs,” said Marla Wilson, a sustainable development associate with the Greenbelt Alliance. “We support the project right now. We’ve seen the project heading in the right direction on a number of fronts.”

The decision, Wilson said, stems from the reality that Napa County will have to grow somewhere.

Every eight years, jurisdictions across California are issued housing requirements by the state — obligations that are broken down across four income categories.

Meeting these housing obligations while also discouraging new development in the Ag Preserve has proved difficult for the county in the past. A decade ago, the county was sued for falling short of its obligations to low-income residents.
During the most recent allocation cycle — 2007-2014 — Napa County’s unincorporated area received an allocation of 651 housing units, with nearly half required to be low- to very low-income.

If Napa Pipe isn’t used to meet the county’s current and future housing obligations, other potential locations are likely to be “way more remote” than Napa Pipe, involving “greenfield sites” not previously developed, Wilson said.
Napa Pipe is a 150-acre former industrial location. Placing housing there would allow the project’s developers the opportunity to spare the county’s open spaces, while simultaneously funding a clean-up of a toxic site.

“It seems like, in some ways, the ideal location for this type of development,” Wilson said.

The decision to back the project was not taken lightly, she said, noting that the group spent nearly five years working with Keith Rogal, the project’s developer, and and various interest groups from within the Napa County community.
Wilson said that the Napa Pipe development was one of the largest projects the alliance had supported, one that had “significant implications” for Napa County.

In the past the Greenbelt Alliance helped push for an urban growth boundary in Petaluma, an effort that was ultimately approved by voters last November. Supporting Napa Pipe is the group’s first formal endorsement of 2011.

“We’re committed to developing a special project, one that reduces commuter traffic, protects rural land, adheres to the highest environmental standards and provides new housing in a sustainable manner,” Rogal said in an email. “It is an honor to receive the support of the Greenbelt Alliance, validating our approach to preserving agricultural land and open space in Napa County.”

While the group felt comfortable signing off on the project, there are still a few areas that cause concern.

Like many who have chimed in on the Napa Pipe proposal, Wilson and the Greenbelt Alliance believe that providing water to the site could pose potential problems.

“It would be preferable for us to see a plan that would safeguard water for agriculture and also ensure that any new water coming into the area wouldn’t make sprawl feasible,” Wilson said.

Between the project’s original environmental study — released in 2009 — and the supplemental study released last month, Napa Pipe’s applicants have proposed both ground and surface water options for supplying the site.
While the decision will ultimately rest with the county’s Board of Supervisors, Rogal is confident that either source of water would provide a workable solution.

“They (the Greenbelt Alliance) are the Bay Area’s leading environmental organization addressing such issues, and we certainly share their (water) goals,” he said.

“We look forward to working with the county and the (alliance) to put the (water) surplus to work replacing more costly, less reliable sources, in a way which benefits current county residents,” Rogal said.

In addition to water issues, Wilson said the alliance also had reservations about the lack of public transportation currently serving the site, but added that as the project reached buildout, routes would likely be added to serve the new population hub.

While a representative from the Greenbelt Alliance spoke in favor of the project during the public hearing held last Wednesday, Wilson said the group would submit a formal comment letter by the end of the week.

Following a 30-day extension granted by the county’s Planning Commission, the deadline to submit comments on Napa Pipe’s environmental study is May 2.

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