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15 years in progress, Napa Pipe redevelopment project speeds toward possible final green light for Costco construction

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It could be the final stretch toward green-lighting construction of Napa Valley’s first Costco Wholesale store and the first of up to 945 homes planned.

After a flurry of legal and land-use-planning activity in the past year between the city, county and development team to sort out matters of jurisdiction and credit for housing construction, the 154-acre former Napa Pipe plant along the Napa River at press time was headed toward a hearing Jan. 21 before the Napa City Council.

Approval would start more bustle over several months to finalize extensive engineering documents on plans for all the infrastructure and site development then pursue sign-offs from city officials, according to the project developers. In the last two months of 2019, the project was moved along through the Napa County Local Area Formation Commission, plus the Napa County Board of Supervisors, Napa County Airport Land Use Commission and a first pass by the City Council.

The first phase is the 91-acre side of the property east of the railroad tracks, with the Costco store and gas station, a few hundred homesat the northern end plus commercial space at the southern end. The store would be ready to build by mid-2021 and open a year later, while pads for the housing would be turned over to homebuilders in time for units to be sold in 2021 through 2023, Tom Marshall, executive vice president of project master developer Catellus Development Corp., told the Napa Planning Commission in December.

“Our goal is to move as fast as possible to put this project into production, but we’re very thoughtful about not getting to ahead of ourselves with the infrastructure,” he said. “We want to monitor the absorption and pacing of our customers as we go.”

Depending on the sale of homes in phase 1, phase 2 on the southern half of the 63 acres on the western side of the tracks could begin in mid-2021, Marshall said. Phase 3 would finish the west-side housing at the north end, including housing around the waterfront and recreational park to be created from the former drydocks.

For Keith Rogal, who led the acquisition of the property at 1025 Kaiser Road in 2005 and has worked on entitlements since, there’s relief at the potential of the project’s shifting into full-on construction soon. Over the past few years, extensive site remediation work has been undertaken to clean up the site from its steel foundry days dating back to World War II.

“It is a beautiful place, and it is the single best opportunity Napa has had in decades, or ever will have, for truly substantial amounts of well-planned new housing,” Rogal wrote in an email. “It was agonizing — working and waiting and wondering if it would happen — if that huge obsolete site would be allowed to be recycled in this badly needed way. And it was wonderful to see the community, the County and City and State leadership, pull together in the end to make it possible.”

The project initially was envisioned to have up to 2,580 housing units plus upwards of 400,000 square feet of commercial space, 150-room hotel and 150-unit senior housing facility. But concerns from local government about housing density reduced the planned number to 945 by the time the county board of supervisors approved project entitlements the first time in 2013, a year after Costco committed to the project.

Oakland-based mixed-use development specialist Catellus came to the project in 2014, and the project design was changed 2018 to make it more financially feasible, Marshall said. The big change was moving 375 planned market rate dwellings and 70 affordable units to the east side, rather than having all housing on the west side, and minimum units to be built was set at 700.

The problem with the original plan was it would have required 945 units to be built on 21 acres, creating a housing density of over 40 per acre, while market demand suggests units should be packed together no more than about 21 per acre, or about 450 units, Marshall said. The project needed 945 units to be feasible, leaving upwards of 500 units unbuilt.

“We’ve taken it about as far as you can go without going to structured parking,” Marshall said, referring to shared parking garages.

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