Proposed 60 Room Lodging Facility
St. Helena Star May 05, 2009
Friedrich tries hotel project once again
By Jesse Duarte
See also: 2009 Lodging Project
Rodney Friedrich has been trying to plan and build a hotel on his Vineland Station property since the early 1990s.
Unfortunately for him, the city council doesn’t give points for effort, and has repeatedly voted against his project.
Now, spurred on by a sluggish economy and a new city council, the south St. Helena developer is giving it one more shot. He’s requesting that the city increase the hotel room cap by 60 rooms.
If the city council is supportive, he’ll apply for a full slate of entitlements for what he diplomatically calls an “overnight lodging facility.”
“That term (hotel) seems bad,” he said last week. “And that’s fine. We’re trying to learn from any mistakes we’ve made in the past.”
After the council rejected the previous iteration of the project in 2007, Friedrich said he’d give up on the hotel and plant a vineyard. But he said local businesspeople have repeatedly asked him to bring the project back.
“Since then I’ve heard from a lot of people in the business community who’ve said, ‘We need that hotel. Are you sure you don’t want to bring it back?’” he said.
An endorsement by the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce was another reason Friedrich brought the project back, he said. Although it hasn’t weighed in on an actual hotel project, the Chamber has formally backed Friedrich’s request to raise the hotel room cap.
The impact of a hotel was analyzed in the Highway 29 Specific Plan, so the project won’t need any additional environmental review. Like his previous project, the new proposal includes a road between Grayson and Vidovich avenues that’s billed as an extension of Oak Avenue.
Friedrich estimates that by its fifth year of operation, at $526 a room and with a 70 percent occupancy rate, the hotel would generate about $967,630 for the city in transient occupancy taxes. If approved, the hotel would be built in 2011 at the earliest.
The proposal’s a little smaller than the 78-room project the council rejected 4-0 in 2006, and a little bigger than the 50-room “inn” that resulted in a 2-2 deadlock in 2007.
In 2006 councilmembers cited concerns about a lack of water and sewer infrastructure, a lack of affordable housing, and the size of the proposed hotel. In 2007 they told Friedrich to use the General Plan process to gauge whether the community would support a hotel.
At a General Plan town hall meeting held at Napa Valley College in March, support for a hotel was a recurring theme. The new General Plan could convert the Vineland Station property from Service Commercial to Mixed Use, a new land use designation.
Councilmember Eric Sklar recused himself from the 2007 vote because of his involvement in another hotel project at the St. Helena Marketplace north of town. He’s said he’ll recuse himself from consideration of the revised project as well.
The two councilmembers who spoke against the project, Michael Novak and Joe Potter, have been replaced by Sharon Crull and Catarina Sanchez. Friedrich said he believes that this time he has the votes he needs.
Friedrich said he addressed the council’s concern about jobs by including 10 residential units in a separate project that was a mix of commercial, retail and residential space. The council green-lighted that project in 2007, and demolition should begin in May to make way for the two new buildings.
The second-floor residential units, two of which are designated as affordable, were a response to the council’s concerns over the impact of new jobs that would be created by a hotel.
Friedrich said he investigated an on-site sewer system, but decided not to pursue it because of increasingly stringent state regulations on septic systems. He hopes to use city water and sewer for the new project.
Given the recent water deal with the city of Napa and ongoing improvements to the city’s sewer system, he said the city has the capacity to handle his project. However, he could use two on-site wells if necessary.
According to Interim Public Works Director John Ferons, developers like Friedrich are required to pay a sewer mitigation fee or, preferably, fund some tangible improvement to the sewer system.