Has Napa City Abandoned Slow Down Napa, Increasing Housing Opportunities and Better Architecture?
Let's Hope Not!
Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB
I don’t often focus on a project going through the processing meat grinder but this one has City wide resonance. Edenbridge Homes is poised to have its subdivision map approved for 11 houses on a 3.7 acres site on Browns Valley Road. When the project was first conceived in 2021 The site was in the County and needed to be annexed to be improved. While the zoning was limited to three houses per acre at that time, the new city General Plan calls for 3–8 unit/acre and could have been an excellent opportunity to create up to 25 affordable homes. That will never happen.
While I am a strong advocate of higher density housing, I can’t hold Edenbridge responsible for not pursuing higher density here. Neither the City Housing Element or the Zoning ordinance have been modified to accommodate the potential increased densities. It’s nice to wish for higher density, but not providing the mechanisms to fulfill the need is a disappointment. While I mourn the lost opportunity to create more affordable housing, I recognize it’s too late.
This project should’ve been approved years ago under the lower density. The pandemic, loss of staff and budget constraints has slowed the process, but it is my belief, there are still errors in this proposal and the City Public works has only made it worse. Traffic calming and good traffic design is not on their agenda.
While the density is unfortunately fixed, the plan is deficient. Here is an example of where the engineers have failed the city.
First, the Public Works required plan includes widening Browns Valley Road to match the Eastern street section that’s up to 120’ wide, originally designed to accommodate up to a thousand more homes in the Valley. The section should be reduced to minimize traffic speeds while still providing two travel lanes, a turning lane, bike paths and separated sidewalks on both.
Second, a fundamental traffic engineering requirement is that new street entrances should line up on both sides of a street. Westwood Park is becoming extremely popular and a left turn lane into both should be organized and the two road entrances lineup. There could be a four-way stop intersection here to help slow traffic and minimize dangerous turning movements. At the very least, a pedestrian crosswalk with lights and landscaped bulb outs will help slow and control traffic.
These are perfect examples of how we can help slow traffic down in Napa. I will guarantee there will be incidents and consequences for the city with the two street accesses that don’t lineup.
My third issue is a design exception to allow sidewalks to be attached to the street, rather than separated by a planter. Since about 2008 Pedestrian Friendly Streets with separated sidewalks has been essential to every Napa subdivision I’ve designed. This luxury community of multimillion dollar homes will have the same streetscape as a low- end track subdivision. It’s neither code compliant nor consistent with Browns Valley. Moreover, it’s ugly.
My last Issue: is this Architecture Appropriate?
While the existing residence has limited historic value, it is one of the oldest houses in the community and has significant character. None of the architecture that Edenbridge has produced reflects a Browns Valley character or has the stone and farmhouse charm. The present 3000-3500 square footage house plans on lots as small as 7000 could be anywhere and don’t reflect Edenbridge’s quality development.
The floor plans are gigantic boxes, without character or flair. I understand the fundamental challenge of the costs and improvements required. Still, these homes will be selling in the $2 Million or more range and they deserve a better sense of place.
The architectural designs should be a gift to the street and community.
I wish to be clear that I support annexing, approving the EIR and subdividing this property. However, the site and architectural designs are not there yet. I believe that Edenbridge can do a valuable service for the city in creating quality homes and an excellent community addition to Browns Valley. I believe that with patience and attention to detail, it can become a true asset.
Chris d Craiker AIA/NCARB has designed 8 Napa subdivisions and over 20,000 Bay Area homes.