SodaCanyonRoad | Mountain Peak: not remotely appropriate
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Mountain Peak: not remotely appropriate


Bill Hocker | Jan 16, 2017 on: Mountain Peak Winery


On J‌an 4th 2017, the Mountain Peak Winery was approved by a 3 to 1 vote at the Napa County Planning Commission. The location is 6‌‌ miles up a winding dead-end road, up a steep grade and pass, the only access to the isolated plateau of the Rector Reservoir watershed. The project is proposed to be a 100,000 gal/y winery with 14575 yearly visitors and 19 employees. One Commissioner decided that she could not support the visitation and marketing requested, heeding the interpretive guidance given by Supervisors in the 2010 WDO Interpretive Guidance(Item III here) to consider the remoteness of location and access constraints in determining marketing and visitation numbers.

In the last year or so, in a reasonable effort to provide some objectivity to the arbitrary requests for capacity and visitation that applicants make in presenting their projects, the Planning Department has begun providing tables to the planning commissioners comparing the applicants requests to wineries of similar capacity, similar siting, and in the same locality. In the case of Mountain Peak, the County provided tables of comparable 100,000 gal. wineries. In addition, the applicant provided several "comparables" of their own on page 14 of their project narrative here.

At the J‌‌an 4th Planning Commission meeting, Deputy Director of Engineering Rick Marshall, the chief county road engineer, drew a distinction in the Mountain Peak decision for Commissioners to consider when looking at comparable wineries: "I think a tough decision for you today is the distinction between roads that are dead end versus those that are not." He elaborated on the funding difficulties that the county faces in maintaining its roads, indicating that dead end roads might be rather low on their repair priorities as funding comes available in the future. (There is more on the road issues raised in the hearing here) He concluded by asking: "Is it appropriate to put this land use on this dead end road?... I hand it back to you at that point."

In our J‌an 4th 2017 community presentation to the Planning Commission, we looked at the details of those comparables with particular emphasis on the dead end nature of the road. Soda Canyon Road is one of the longest dead-end roads (along with Atlas Peak road) in the county. Our presentation, below, highlighting the dead end nature of the road, was made by Glenn Schreuder. It is also available here:

[Presentation given to the Planning Commission on Jan 4th, 2017 at hearing for Mountain Peak Use Permit P13-00320]

Honorable Commissioners,

My name is Glenn Schreuder and my family has lived in upper Soda Canyon continuously since 1956. I would like to present some comparisons to the Proposed Mountain Peak Project that have been made which give some context to the appropriateness of the size and visitation requested for the project.

Comparison 1: from applicant
I wish to respectfully draw your attention to the "Comparative Analysis of Daily Visitation" contained on page 14 of the 18 page applicant's Project Statement, as revised on March 15th, 2016. Five Wineries are listed in "Comparative Analysis of Daily Visitation": Chappellet, Ladera,Oakville Grade, Schramsberg and Somerston.

Purportedly selected for their location on "Hillside Roads", well sort of hillside roads, but I'll get to that shortly. The analysis also represents that the daily visitation for MPW is 58% of the norm when compared to these five wineries of similar Gallons per Year.

Winery
Mountain Peak
Production
100000 g/y
Visitation
14575/yr
Pre WDO
No
Road Configuration
6.1 miles, Dead End Road



As shown in the above chart, the analysis clearly cherry picks 100K Gallons per Year (GPY) "hillside" wineries with material visitation entitlements that are not located on dead-end, one way in and one way out rural, residential roads:
  1. Chappellet: Located on CA Hwy 128 (aka Sage Canyon Road, NOT on a dead end road and NOT in the heart of a rural neighborhood, it's actually a driveway on a state highway toward Winters, CA.
  2. Ladera: Located on two-way in/out White Cottage Road a short distance from Angwin (a census-designated place with a population of ~3,000)
  3. Oakville Grade: Located on the two-way in/out Oakville Grade, not a dead-end.
  4. Schramsberg: Located up private Schramsberg Road off of CA Hwy 29 (not a neighborhood, a private road to the winery).
  5. Somerston: Located again on CA Hwy 128 (Sage Canyon Road) NOT a dead-end road and NOT in the heart of a rural neighborhood).
As a result this analysis is, in essence, comparing five apples to one orange which is misleading.

Comparison 2 from County:

Further, in regard to the County-created Exhibit F "Updated Winery Comparison, 100,000 GPY", of the 18 wineries listed in the comparison, 14 are indicated to be on the "valley floor" and only 4 are indicated to be "hillside" wineries.

Winery
Mountain Peak
Production
100000 g/y
Visitation
14575/yr
Pre WDO
No
Road Configuration
6.1 miles, Dead End Road



According to Google Maps:
  1. Kent Rasmussen Winery has its tasting room in the Napa Valley Corporate Park.
  2. Pahlmeyer Winery has its tasting room at 811 St Helena Hwy #202, St Helena,CA
  3. Trinchero Napa Valley also its tasting room at 100 Main St, St Helena, CA, and
  4. Moss Creek Winery is located at Moskowite Corners, at the corner of Hwy 128 and Steele Canyon Rd

None of these four wineries appear to really be 'hillside' wineries at all, like the MPW project is. While some of their vineyards may potentially be somewhere in the hills, three have tasting rooms on the valley floor and Moss Creek, while remote to the valley floor, is right off CA Hwy 128 on the way to Winters and Davis, CA.

While all 18 wineries appear have use permits for 100,000 GPY, and varying levels of annual visitations, none of these 18 wineries are substantially similar to the MPV project in terms of (a) being in a very remote dead-end box canyon location and (b) having very limited access in terms of a safe, properly maintained roadway to serve it. I'm really unclear what conclusion can be drawn from this exhibit other than if MPV were on this list it would be a non-homogenous member by way of its inherently out-sized proportions in comparison to roadway access.

Comparison 3: Atlas Peak

A more appropriate comparison would be to compare wineries up another long, dead-end road in the county, Atlas Peak Road:

Winery
Mountain Peak
Production
100000 g/y
Visitation
14575/yr
Pre WDO
No
Road Configuration
6.1 miles, Dead End Road


  1. Kongsgaard 9.4 miles up Atlas Peak road, 12,000 GPY, no visitation allowed.
  2. Alta 9.0 miles up Atlas Peak road, 5,000 GPY, 208 visitors allowed per year.
  3. Ripe Peak 8.8 miles up Atlas Peak road, 1,500 GPY, 1,456 visitors allowed per year.
  4. Vin Roc 8.1 miles up Atlas Peak road, 18,000 GPY, 416 visitors allowed per year.
  5. William Hill 1.4 miles up Atlas Peak road, 720,000 GPY, 13,000 visitors allowed per year.
(Note that William Hill Winery is almost on the valley floor, adjacent to the Silverado Countyr Club, and even then only has only 13K/year visitors allowed. It is almost certainly not by accident that a winery of this scope and scale is not 6+ miles up a dead-end road like Atlas Peak or Soda Canyon).

Comparison 4: Soda Canyon Rd

And another more "apples to apples" comparison would be to compare MPW to other wineries on the dead-end Soda Canyon Road itself:

Winery
Mountain Peak
Production
100000 g/y
Visitation
14575/yr
Pre WDO
No
Road Configuration
6.1 miles, Dead End Road



With the exception of Antica Napa Valley, which owns approximately 1,200 acres of contiguous land at the very end of Soda Canyon Road and therefore can only be compared in terms of its parcel size to production and visitation ratios, all of the wineries on Soda Canyon Road have production levels of between 12,000 and 30,000 gallons. And all, including Antica, have visitation levels from none to about a third of the Applicant's request.


In summation

It is clear from this comparison that the wineries selected for comparative analysis in the applicant's project statement are only comparable to the extent that they have the same GPY and varying degrees of visitation, otherwise their locations are far away in terms of distance from Upper Soda Canyon and are not remotely comparable in terms of the traffic impacts that Soda Canyon road (as a dead-end road) and its residents would suffer.


The conclusion from this presentation: There are no comparables in these examples to the size and visitation requested by Mountain Peak on dead end roads or even hillside locations.

  • Of the Applicant's 5 examples 4 are pre-WDO wineries accessed directly off main roads, 3 with large visitation. 2 of the examples, including the only "remote" example, have less than a third the visitation of Mountain Peak (we like the comparison!).
  • The 4 "hillside" wineries presented by the County in fact were either directly on a state highway, on the valley floor or had their tasting room on the valley floor.
  • And on Soda Canyon Road the only winery with more than 30,000 gallons, Antica, had one third the visitation of Mountain Peak. (another good comparison!)

    [A side comparison: The County's 100,000g/y comparison tables do highlight the incredible range in visitation (from 4400 to 151,000 vis/yr) approved for that capacity. While business models for marketing 100,000 gallons of wine may vary, it is tempting to see such an enormous difference as simply arbitrariness in the request and approval process. Commissioners were uncomfortable about that arbitrariness when I first attended a commission meeting 3 years ago, and they are still uncomfortable about it today, even with the comparable tables. Dir. Morrison was right to try (unsuccessfully) to find a more rational relationship between parcel size, capacity and visitation at APAC. The issue should be revisited.]


A more extensive comparison of appropriateness
Comparables can be used in a couple of ways. They can encourage excessive requests to be scaled back to more "normal" values, the intent if not the result perhaps of the County's comparables. But they can also be used to justify excessive requests based on a few excessive examples, guaranteeing an ever increasing upward trend. This, I would argue, was the intent of the examples used by the applicant.

At the hearing Mr. Marshall added this in terms of comparables: "I was trying to think of - you know as soon as I say it, likely somebody will disagree - an example to me that's similar is Diamond Mountain. It's a similar narrow windy, mountainous terrain, and it's a dead end." He didn't know its capacity or visitation, however. It is 10,000 gal/y and 1500 visitors per year.

While looking up the location of Diamond Mountain Winery I realized that a comparison could be made to many other "remote" wineries in the county. Using the NVV's excellent map here I have made this list of other wineries using data from the County's winery database here. "Remoteness" I defined as being a mile or more off a state highway or the Trail. (The distance between Hwy 29 and the Trail averages 2 miles) I have included all of the applicant's examples here even though all do not fall into that definition of remoteness.

I have created an online interactive list of 70+ wineries in the Napa watersheds to see how Mountain Peak compares to its "remote" brethren.

I ask your indulgence to click here or on the map to view the interactive "Remote Wineries" analysis on the Soda Canyon Road website and to play around with the sorting capabilities on the table. (Such interactivity is unfortunately impossible to do in an email.)

You can also click on "View only SCR wineries" to compare Mountain Peak to other wineries on Soda Canyon Road.


Analysis from the Remote Wineries table:

Mountain Peak, when compared against these 70+ "remote" wineries falls within the upper 10% for capacity and visitation. It has:
  • 2 x the average capacity (3 x if the 2 huge pre-WDO wineries are excluded)
    5 x the median capacity
  • 2.5 x the average visitation
    over 7x the median visitation
  • is 2 miles further from a major highway than average,
    3 miles further up a dead end road than average.
  • 3 x the average trips per day
    9 x the median trips per day

Breakdown by ranking when sorting on different columns:

Of all 70+ remote wineries
  • Capacity: 6th largest. All larger are pre-WDO.
  • Visitation: 6th largest.
  • Employees: 3rd largest
  • Trips/day: 3rd largest
  • Distance from hwy: 21st. Of the 20 further, it has the most visitation
  • Distance on Dead End road: 8th. Of the 8 further, it has the most visitation by far

Of 44 Post-WDO remote wineries
  • Capacity : largest
  • Visitation: 4th largest

Of 8‌‌ Soda Canyon Road Wineries
  • Capacity: 2nd
  • Visitation: 1st by far
    2.5 x the visitation of the much larger Antica Winery.
    5 x the average visitation

In summary, while the applicants on the Mountain Peak project argued that their numbers fell in the middle range of the comparable wineries that they selected and that were presented by the County, the reality is that, as the particulars of selected wineries are looked at and as watershed wineries are looked at as a whole, the Mountain Peak capacity and visitation numbers are at the extreme upper end.


Two other recent comparables:
A couple of other wineries that have been reviewed by the Planning Commission since the approval of Mountain Peak also throw some light on the appropriateness of the Mountin Peak decision. They are the Flynnville winery just south of Calistoga and the Black Sears winery outside of Angwin.

NVR 2/15/17: Napa County approves a winery on an 'eyesore' Calistoga site

In the Flynnville case the Planning commission felt that the project, despite its presence directly on Hwy 29, and adjacent to the Castello di Amorosa mega-winery was too intensive a use at 60,000 gal/yr and 25 visitors/day. Compare that to Mountain Peak at 100,000 g/y 60 vis/day 6 miles up a winding dead end road. I would argue that if the decision on Flynnville is correct (which I think it is) then the decision on Mountain Peak is grossly negligent. The Flynnville project was, in fact, approved with a more appropriate reduction in capacity to 40,000 gal/yr.

NVR 2/27/17: Isolated Napa County winery allowed 16 visitors a day

In the Black Sears approval, the Planning Commission noted the remote character and the appropriateness of a 20,000 g/y winery and 16 vis/day, 4 employees on a 60 acre parcel.

"It is unusually remote," one commissioner said [at the hearing] . "I mean, literally it's at the end of the road. It's a long road." While it is 3 miles further from a state highway than Mountain Peak at 9.2 miles, it is only 2.5 miles from the heavily traveled Howell Mountain Road and the town of Angwin that links the Napa Valley to Pope Valley. The same commissioner had no similar concerns about the remoteness of Mountain Peak.

Another commissioner said that the project "truly introduces modest visitation in a remote location... This is something we are trying to embrace." The commissioner was not very interested to embrace modest visitation on Mountain Peak.

A third commissioner approved of a project that was "modest and to scale" and commented on the "great neighbor relations". Neither of those conditions could be applied to Mountain Peak but the commissioner approved it anyway. In fact over half of the households on Soda Canyon Road (and over 800 individuals throughout the county) have signed a petition opposing the project. If such consideration is to be given to the good neighbor relations in the approval of projects, equal consideration should be given to negative neighbor testimony.

A fourth commissioner complimented the "modest level of visitation given the remote location" and the neighborhood support the project received. Having denied the Mountain Peak project over its lack of similar attributes, she remains the one commissioner consistent in her sense of appropriateness when evaluating wineries in remote locations.