AT FIRST GLANCE, IT'S HARD TO SEE HOW THE Carneros Inn in Napa, Calif., could have any connection to the tenets of new urbanism. The 27-acre, $57 million resort property boasts the first of two dozen for-sale homes, 96 guest cottages, a spa, and a first-class restaurant. Instead of the usual alley-loaded garages, front porches, and other new urbanism signatures, the site is marked by swaths of lavender and hilltop views of the Napa River, neighboring vineyards, and the Mayacamas Mountains. And forget the average amenities of most planned communities. Here, homeowners have full access to everything the resort has to offer, plus in-home catering, wine tastings, and maid service.
But the combination of mixed-use buildings, pedestrian-friendly streets, and densely situated homes all adds up to a wine-country version of new urbanism, which is exactly what Keith Rogal, founder and CEO of San Francisco–based Carneros Partners, had in mind back in the mid-'90s when he first contemplated turning four blighted, commercial parcels into a first-class resort. “It was 27 acres of really sad, tawdry land in the middle of a spectacular environment,” says the developer. Throw in a formidable band of Get a Grip on Growth (GGG) neighbors and the fact that it had been two decades since a Napa resort had been given the green light, and Rogal had what could have been an insurmountable challenge on his hands.
“What I saw in Carneros was what seemed to me was truly an exceptional opportunity,” says the ever upbeat, big-dreaming Rogal. “It was consistent with my original vision of real estate development, which is to create a place that people love and you will be rewarded financially. It's a transformative act, almost like alchemy.”
A Special Place Those 27 acres of mixed-use, commercial property ended up being a blessing in disguise for Rogal and his vision of a master planned, resort community. What had once been a 500-space RV yard, an old mobile-home park, and the remnants of a go-cart track were indeed neglected eyesores, but their commercial nature excluded the contiguous parcels from zoning ordinances that relegate much of Napa County to minimum 160-acre tracts.
“We had a unique asset,” says Rogal, a devotee of Robert Davis' Seaside, the Florida community that's become a prototype for new urbanism. “We could have 24 homes in close proximity in an area where the rest of the zoning is a 160-acre minimum. The architectural concept was to provide the privacy that people want and expect in a getaway, but to do it in a form that also deals with the proximity of the homes.”
After years of community meetings, careful stroking of Napa's more prominent citizens, and a promise to adopt smart-growth and environmental practices, Rogal and his partners turned to the Boston architectural firm of William Rawn Associates, Architects, to help establish the resort's character. Rogal already had a pretty good idea of what he wanted. He had grown up in Boston, but saw much of the world with his father, who ran a large chain of travel agencies. In the Carneros region, an area just 45 minutes from San Francisco that's noted for its agricultural and ranch history, he wanted to create a special place, not unlike much of Martha's Vineyard or Italy's Lake Como region. “These are places that over time are burnished and polished, not eroded and compromised,” says Rogal. “The value to the landowners detaches completely from the sticks and bricks, and they become special places that people have great love for. Bankers call these ‘irreproducible assets.'”
Doug Johnston, the William Rawn principal most involved in the design of Carneros, looked to what he calls Napa Valley's “straightforward honesty” for inspiration. “In designing a resort, there might have been the temptation to bring in some sort of false luxury, but we thought relating things to the ranches and the agricultural history of the region was a better point of departure,” he says. “Luxury and quality can be reflected in things that on their surface are modest, but in their texture are in fact quite luxurious. That's what we hoped the buildings would reflect.”
The 24 for-sale homes all feature metal roofs and simple, board-and-batten exteriors in colors that, as Johnston explains, “try not to be too bold, but are much more than beige.” That means a range of hues with similar densities and values, from khaki to blue gray to green gray. Inside, the 2,400-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath homes are sleek and contemporary. They're full of such high-end touches as Viking and Bosch appliances, Waterworks bath fixtures, and walnut floors. The houses, which have identical floor plans and range in price from $995,000 to $1.6 million, all include a second-story observation tower and rooftop deck.
It's those outdoor spaces and the way the homes are sited that make privacy possible for the two dozen homes, which nearly abut one another. Two wings of the home—one contains the open kitchen and living/dining rooms while another houses one of two master suites—surround a courtyard but leave open one corner for access to private parking. Vast amounts of glass and operable wood windows let in lots of light and allow the best of the Napa climate to flow through the house. “It's an inward focus rather than something that looks into neighbors' yards,” says Johnston. The outward focus comes from the observation tower and deck, “which gets you up high enough with views to the mountains and the surrounding vineyards, but not into your neighbors' courtyards,” Johnston continues. “There's literally a 360-degree view of the property, with something enticing to see in almost any direction.”
Community Living At The Carneros Inn, everything from the landscaping to the restaurants to a proposed civic square has been designed to encourage a feeling of community, a guiding force behind new urbanism. With that in mind, Ro-gal decided against selling the 24 homes as “fractionals,” the latest, most upscale version of the time-share that is all the rage with resorts these days. “We wanted to have real residents who can become a further part of anchoring this community,” says Rogal.
“I wanted to create a place that not only reflected the spirit of this community, but exemplified it,” says Rogal. “There are people here with lots of money and people with very little money, but they all appreciate the same things. Soon we'll have a civic square that's adjacent to the resort, not in the middle of it, so that tourists can wander down and bump into the locals. In 20 years, I want to be sitting in our restaurant with people from around the area because we're friends and because, together, we've made this place better.”
Project: The Carneros Inn, Napa, Calif.; Site size: 27 acres; Total for-sale units: 24; Price: $995,000 to $1.6 million; Unit size: 2,400 square feet; Developer: Carneros Partners, San Francisco; Builder: Carneros Courtyard Homes, Napa; Architect: Les Girard, Berkeley, Calif.; Design architect: William Rawn Associates, Architects, Boston; Landscape architect: Olin Partnership, Philadelphia; Interior designer: Shopworks, Napa