From Learning to Lodging At Former Capell School Site

From Learning to Lodging:  Napa County Supervisors Approve Vacation Rental Units On Former Lake Berryessa School Site

Back in 2009 when the Bureau of Reclamation closed and demolished five of the seven Lake Berryessa resorts, they also hammered the last nails into the coffin of Capell Valley Elementary School. Without the resorts being open to provide jobs to hundreds of local folks, student enrollment dropped.  

The Napa Valley Unified School District soon closed the school in 2010 due to lack of enough students, less than 50, to justify its continued use. Children from the local area are now bused to and from the Napa Valley daily - a long twisty ride.

Local residents created a non-profit organization to promote the use of the school site as a community center. After several years of hard work and negotiations with the school district, the group was unsuccessful. 

The NVUSD put the property up for bid and finally sold it in 2016 for $325,000 to the Pridmore family who, coincidentally, had donated the property to the school district in 1958 to create the local school in the first place. 

The Pridmore family now proposes bringing short-term vacation rental cottages to the former Capell Valley school site to help boost a struggling Lake Berryessa tourist economy. 

They filed a request with the county to build nine or so cottages on five acres of the site on Capell Valley Road near Moskowite Corners, about six miles from Steele Canyon Recreation Area.

Supervisors are considering whether the county should enter into a Managing Partner Agreement (MPA) with the Bureau of Reclamation to manage five of the Lake Berryessa resorts. 

So far the results of an economic study of the possibilities have been promising. Meanwhile the supervisors are well aware that the local economy continues to suffer.

“I’m fairly familiar with the Pridmore family,” Supervisor Ryan Gregory said. “I can’t think of a better custodian for this area.”

Supervisor Diane Dillon said the Pridmores’ idea “seems like a perfect thing to do,” given the county’s efforts to revitalize the Berryessa economy.

Although the site is designated as agricultural watershed and open space by the county’s 2008 general plan, overall, the parcel lends itself to a commercial use much more than an agricultural use. 

For the Pridmores’ proposal to become reality, the Board of Supervisors must change this designation to one allowing commercial development.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to initiate a General Plan change. Public hearings will follow by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

Under Measure P, voters must approve most general plan changes involving the loss of agriculturally-designated land. The Capell school site is among the exceptions. It had a rural residential designation when Measure P’s predecessor, Measure J, passed in 1990, a county report said.

Principal Planner John McDowell told the Board both verbally and in writing that the site is not particularly well-suited for agriculture, nor can a winery be built there, given the county’s 10-acre minimum for winery development.

In addition, the area east of the Napa Valley toward Lake Berryessa has few lodging options. Providing more lodging there could help promote agriculture in a less-visited portion of the county, given the local link between tourism and agriculture.

With the Board’s positive vote, the Pridmores will work out their proposal in greater detail for future public hearings.

pkilkus@gmail.com                       © Peter Kilkus 2017