An outdoor gathering place featuring dining, a beer garden and a miniature distillery has won the support of Napa city planners, setting the stage for reviving a onetime Copia garden property that has been closed to the public for 13 years.
The Planning Commission on Thursday endorsed the Oxbow Yard, a temporary dining, picnicking and lounge venue at 585 First St. that will occupy 5 acres of what once was the south garden of Copia before the original version of the food, wine and fine arts center failed in 2008. Oxbow Yard is expected to operate for at least three years, project partner Perry Clark has said.
Permits for the Oxbow Yard will run for three years, after which the developer Wayne O’Connell plans to replace it with a 124-unit housing development first announced in 2018.
Commissioners accepted the project despite concerns from several opponents about straining the parking supply of the Oxbow neighborhood, a once-sleepy area that has gained visitors’ increasing attention with the arrival of Copia, the Oxbow Public Market, and nearby hotels and restaurants.
While city staff estimated the Oxbow Yard would generate demand for 28 customer parking spaces and 10 more for employees, Commissioner Bob Massaro questioned whether the footprint of dining, socializing and live music would be so light, and cast the only dissenting vote against the plan.
“I like the project; I don’t like it here,” he said, pointing to the plan’s reliance on Copia’s former south parking lot and its frequent use by a variety of businesses and visitors. “The math doesn’t work for me. To set aside 28 spaces for a daily population of 200 to 300 people is going to put a burden on all the other surrounding businesses, and that really concerns me.”
But all four of Massaro’s peers voted their support, with Gordon Huether saying the property has been zoned and equipped for guests since the late Robert and Margrit Mondavi first opened Copia across First Street two decades ago.
“The space they designed wasn’t used as much as it could and should have,” he said of Oxbow Yard’s long-dormant site. “We’re bringing something that’s already there back to life.” Even under new management, he added, ‘it seems totally consistent with what was originally intended.”
Members of Napa’s land-use authority approved much of St.Helena-based Oxbow Yard LP’s project, which aims to bring dining, live music and event spaces into a park-like setting along a bend of the downtown Napa River. The development will create a beer garden and outdoor restaurant within the existing garden space east of Copia’s original south parking lot, across First Street from the revived CIA at Copia and the Oxbow Public Market.
Oxbow Yard’s creators have proposed to bring five 40-foot-long cargo-style containers to the property – two for use as kitchens, two for storage and one to house a bar. One of the containers is to host a 50-gallon micro-distillery producing liquor that will be served at a tasting room on the premises. In addition, the center will incorporate fixtures carried over from the Copia era, including a pavilion with a stage, fireplace, pizza oven, outdoor kitchen and restrooms. Fire pits and pergola-covered seating will be added to the site.
However, the nearness of the site to homes across the river led planners to pare back parts of the project, for which Oxbow Yard LP had hoped to host weddings, corporate events, and two live, amplified concerts during the tourist off-season.
Conditions planners imposed on Oxbow Yard will limit performances to acoustic, non-amplified music, and require operations to end at 9 p.m., rather than the applicants’ preferred closing times of 10 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday and midnight Thursday to Saturday. Oxbow Yard can gain an extension to 11 p.m. if it files a noise study supporting later hours, which the city would consider after Oxbow Yard has been open for 60 days. Private group events will require the use of shuttle buses to take visitors to the facility from off-site.
Sound levels for outdoor music and entertainment must stay below 67 decibels at Oxbow Yard’s property line, 55 dB at the edge of single-family homes, and 65 dB at multifamily buildings, according to city assistant planner Bond Mendez.
One of the partners in the Oxbow Yard project promised that music will remain a supporting use and not a concert-style draw.
“The intent of this is to (provide) background music,” Perry Clark told commissioners during the online meeting. “We don’t want to be a concert venue, we want to be a restaurant. It’s music that’s behind the scenes, where you can talk over it.”
Despite such pledges, opponents such as John Salmon cautioned that approving such uses even temporarily may worsen parking shortages and other issues unless the city crafts stronger land-use rules in the Oxbow area.
“I don’t know today what the right plan may ultimately be for the Oxbow District, but I do know that it will be far less than optimum if the City continues to approve individual projects as they arrive (even short-term uses like the Oxbow Yard) prior to their being a sense of some common goals and solutions for big issues like parking,” he wrote in a letter to the city, suggesting he could support a temporary moratorium on new Oxbow projects.