Justin-Siena drops shopping center plan, pursues senior center instead

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Napa Valley Register

Four years after floating a shopping center proposal that riled traffic-weary neighbors, Justin-Siena High School is switching gears.

The private academy in north Napa announced Wednesday morning it will shelve its planned retail center – which originally called for the city’s first Lowe’s hardware superstore – in favor of a senior residential center near Solano and Trower avenues.

School directors had pursued a shopping development at the site as an effort to keep improve school finances, but have faced resistance from residents fearing increased congestion, noise and air pollution.

The new project envisions a single, three-story building on 5.8 acres of Justin-Siena property with room for up to 175 beds, according to Kevin Teague, an attorney working with the school. Justin-Siena on Tuesday withdrew its shopping center application with the city Planning Division, and submitted a conceptual plan for the seniors’ facility ahead of a full application, he said.

A seniors’ residence at Solano Avenue likely would be designed for a range of needs, from independent and assisted living to memory care, said Joe Ryan, president and CEO of Oppidan, Justin-Siena’s Minnesota-based development partner.

A Napa senior community would be the second to be built by Oppidan, after a similar project in the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs. That center, Red Rock Senior Living of Woodbury, Minnesota, combines varying grades of elder care with rental apartments, food service, a fitness center, movie theater and other amenities.

The pivot by Justin-Siena officials came about after two months of discussions with nearby residents who asked the school to find a use for the 6.42-acre site that would produce less traffic congestion than a shopping plaza, according to school president Robert Jordan.

“I was impressed that the neighbors were not trying to shut this project down, that they just wanted a different kind of project,” he said. “They offered alternatives to our developer, who then asked us about changing the project.

“This plan has evolved, and I hope we’ve landed on something that works for everybody.”

Moving away from retail construction was a direct response by the developer to neighbors’ traffic worries, according to Ryan. “This is the least impactful use of any kind of real estate,” he said, referring to the new proposal.

“A shopping mall would have dumped even more traffic over here,” said Richard Anderson, a retired engineer who has lived a few streets away from Justin-Siena since 2002. We already have at least six schools (nearby), so people are always getting in and getting out every morning and afternoon. Those of us living here were very concerned about facing all-day traffic until 9 at night.”

“I think, personally, having a senior center is a benefit to the community. I might be there someday.”

Justin-Siena first revealed its plans in 2011, seeking to build a 10-acre development anchored by a 143,000-square-foot Lowe’s Home Improvement Center facing Solano Avenue. After neighbors’ complaints, the school reduced the size of the proposed center to 6.42 acres, changing its prospective tenants to a Sprouts Farmers Market grocery and an unnamed hardware store.

The destination for profits from the development also changed, as Justin-Siena dropped plans for a campus upgrade program in favor of turning all revenues toward tuition assistance.

A third of the school’s estimated 650 students in the 2015-16 are expected to receive tuition support totaling $1.7 million, according to Jordan. He declined to predict how revenue from building a senior community would compare to funds from a shopping center, but said “I definitely wouldn’t pursue this project if it didn’t benefit the school.”

A seniors’ center “is not as good for school or for Oppidan, but if it’s better for the city, then we’re partners,” said Ryan, the Oppidan CEO.

Having a seniors’ center as a school neighbor and partner opens up the chance to link its residents with students, Jordan said. Possibilities include student internships and curricula connected to the senior facility, as well as volunteering by seniors at Justin-Siena’s offices, theater and athletic centers, he said.

The outcome of Justin-Siena’s development efforts is a victory for neighborliness, said Anderson, the north Napa homeowner, who had called for “appropriate” growth that would neither worsen traffic nor snarl operations at Napa Fire’s Station No. 3 nearby.

“The long and the short of it is, it was a chance for people with concerns to get together and express them – and the school listened,” he said. “They were willing to consider something else. It all turned out fine, in my point of view.”

 

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