SodaCanyonRoad | The Fast Track proposal

The Fast Track proposal

Bill Hocker | Jul 31, 2017 on: The Winery Glut

[Letter sent to County in response to proposed limited winery ordinance to define wineries requiring only administrative fast track approval]

Dir. Morrison,

    Policy AG-LU/16: In recognition of their limited impacts,the County will consider affording small wineries a streamlined permitting process. For purposes of this policy, small wineries are those that produce a small quantity of wine using grapes mostly grown on site and host a limited number of small marketing events each year.

    Action Item AG/LU-16.1: Consider amendments to the Zoning Ordinance defining “small wineries,” a “small quantity of wine,” “small marketing events,” and “mostly grown on site,” and establishing a streamlined permitting process for small wineries which retains the requirement for a use permit when the winery is in proximity to urban areas.

Thank you for this opportunity to weigh in on the limited winery proposal. I know that I have little creditability as a 'stakeholder' in this process, but the county's encouragement of building development has had a very direct impact on my life and I find I am unable to contain my opinions. I am sending two comment letters. The first questions the 'philosophical' purpose of the ordinance - asking why the county needs to expedite the process of filling of its agricultural and open spaces with building projects. It seems to be doing a good job of that already. The second letter is this more nuts and bolts analysis.

Why is a streamlined process necessary?

County Policy AG-LU/16 gives justification to the need for such an ordinance by saying only that due to their limited impacts small winery approvals should be streamlined. As I show below, well over 50% of existing Napa wineries fall at or under the parameters of this ordinance. Where are the impacts of that half of the winery cohort analyzed to show that their impacts are limited?

What is a small Napa winery?

In my own mind, to consider the parameters of a small winery I looked at the median statistics in the County's winery database. The median numbers, the 50th percentile, are by definition "medium" sized Napa wineries, with "small" wineries somewhere below and "big" wineries somewhere above. (The definitions of "big" and "small" may differ when considering sets of wineries outside Napa) One possible definition of "small" would be to divide existing wineries into 3 categories with the cutoff for small at the 33rd percentile.

Comparing the existing 33rd, 50th percentile nos. with the ordinance provisions:
exist 33rd%exist 50th%ordinancepercentile
marketing visitors0 vis/y220 vis/y390 vis/y60%
t&t visitors520 vis/y2600 vis/y9125-182500 vis/y*74%-99
*assumes 10 visitation vehicles/day or 25 vis/day by car, 500 vis/day by large tourbus (an unlikely but permitted maximum)

The "small" wineries defined in the ordinance in fact equal or exceed the characteristics of a "medium" sized existing winery in napa County. So, what is the definition of "small"? Shouldn't the parameters of the "small" winery ordinance be reduced to more comport with the actual size of small wineries in Napa County?

I am including a screen shot of the bottom of the county winery database with my own median and average numbers for the 511 wineries listed as a reference when looking at the proposed ordinance numbers. I will be relating the numbers in the Limited winery ordinance to the median numbers of the database - the averages are heavily skewed by the few mega wineries on the top and are not, I think, appropriate when looking at "small" wineries. In summary, the 30,000 gal proposed falls in the 58th percentile of existing wineries. The 12,000 sf falls in the 60th percentile. The 390 event visitation is in the 60th percentile. The text of the ordinance is in bold. My comments are in plain text.

18.08.601 Limited winery
"Limited winery" means a winery that is established after the date of adoption of the ordinance codified in this section, with a maximum annual production capacity of thirty thousand gallons of wine that also meets all of the following conditions:

Does the ordinance apply only to "established after the date of adoption of the ordinance codified in this section" or to existing wineries as well? There seems to be some confusion on this point.

1. Regarding the qualification that the ordinance applies only to wineries after its adoption: 47% of existing wineries in the county have a capacity of 20,000 g/y or less. One must ask how long the county will be able to grant expedited 30,000 g/y permits to new wineries, without also granting that right to existing wineries. That change in the ordinance is a battle to be fought at a later time but this ordinance will make that fight almost inevitable.

2. Regarding the 30,000 gal: The median capacity of all existing wineries in the county database is 25000 gal/yr. 58% all existing wineries could have been built within parameters of the Limited Winery ordinance. My guess is that in future proposals that percentage will go up.

In this context what is the meaning of a "limited winery" (or the meaning of a "small winery" which was the operative term on which this ordinance was proposed in the GP) when 58% of existing wineries fall within the category. "Limited" or "small compared to what?

A. A minimum of eighty-five percent of the wine produced must be made exclusively from vineyards that are both:
1. Owned or leased by the winery owner, and
2. Within the same nested American Viticultural Area as the winery (i.e.,
Rutherford, Stag’s Leap), where applicable;
3. In case of natural disaster (e.g., flood, infestation, fire), subsection (A)(1) and (A(2) above may be temporarily adjusted by the director;

3. In proposal X at APAC you promoted a relationship of capacity and visitation to parcel size. This is the appropriate opportunity to again look a direct connection between a property's use permit and the use that can be made of that property. The provision that grapes may come from external properties owned or leased means that there is no connection between a use permit that runs with the land and what that land can produce. As with the "The Caves at Soda Canyon", any property can be given a use permit under this ordinance to act as a custom crush facility, a factory operation inconsistent which I feel, with the "small family" rhetoric that has been used to justify the need for the limited winery and a meaningful impact when those custom crush factories are being built in remote areas of the county. Once the 30,000 g/y level is reached the custom crush facility will need to expand - and the idea of a "limited" winery is moot.

Processing on-site grapes should be the only justification for such a "limited" permit, the only case, just as building a house, in which administrative rather than Planning Commission approval is appropriate. In doing so the use permit is self regulating. The capacity need not be specified. It is simply the amount of wine that can be made from grapes grown on the use-permitted property (plus 15% blending factor). (In that sense it might mean that more than 30,000 gal might be produced if the property size justifies.) It improves the chances that the vintner will not turn around in 1 year and ask for a capacity expansion. It insures that the limited permit is not just an expedient way to get the ball rolling on a more extensive development project. It eliminates the need to periodically police the terms of external leases and property sales, or the resale of the use permit property, to insure that the use permit should not be revoked. How often is the county willing to revoke use permits? It does not end up littering the landscape and covering arable land with buildings with revoked permits.

B. Total building and cave area shall not exceed twelve thousand square feet in size;

61% of existing Napa Wineries are smaller than 12000 sf. Again one asks what the meaning of "limited" or "small" is in the context of the ordinance. The median size for all existing wineries is 8000sf. The median building size for existing 30,000 g/y wineries is 7700sf. The CEQA small winery maximum is 5000sf with 5000 additional for caves. The CEQA exemption makes clear that above ground wineries have a greater impact on the character of the environment than caves. A 12,000 sf above-ground warehouse is an imposing piece of architecture, and I would defy anyone looking at it to say that it is small. The CEQA exemption got it right. If this ordinance is to be adopted then use the CEQA standard.

C. Will generate no more than forty vehicle trips one way (or twenty round trips) per day and five peak-hour trips, except on those days when marketing events are taking place;

Here is the worst of this ordinances's problem. Visitation, contrary to all previous use-permits is defined in terms of vehicles and not number of visitors. As was brought up by the planning commission when the vehicle versus person measurement was discussed, vehicle measurement alone may regulate traffic counts, but does not measure the amount of activity at a winery that has impacts on neighbors or the environment and adds to the growing quantity of tourism that is impacting the lives of all of the county's citizens.

Speculating that half of the traffic to the winery is visitation, that would be 10 visitor vehicles per day. 10 cars would mean 25 people /day. 10 large tour buses might mean 500 people per day. The impacts would be significantly different: from a minimum of 9125 vis/yr. to a theoretical potential of 182,500 vis/y.

The median visitation at existing wineries in Napa county is 3080 visitors/yr . the median for existing 30,000 g/y is Thus even at the minimum, the number of visitors to be expected at these wineries will be at least 3 times the median. Using 20 person minibuses, well, 25 times the median.

The amount of visitation that would be possible under this ordinance, even at a minimum, is way over the actual visitation currently permitted for similarly sized wineries and a visitor maximum should be part of the ordinance that coincides with existing numbers.

D. Total marketing events will not exceed ten in any calendar year. Each event will not exceed thirty attendees. One of the ten events may be a charitable event, not to exceed one hundred attendees;

The median number of visitors for marketing events at existing wineries in the county is 220 per year. The maximum allowed under the ordinance is 390 per year. Approximately 60% of existing wineries have fewer than 390 marketing event visitors per year. Again what is the definition of "small".

This should also be an opportunity to look at the meaning of marketing events which has been strained under the revisions of 2010. Now that food service is a part of the definition of tours and tastings, the distinction between a tourbus of 50 people coming for a wine pairing under tours and tastings and a 30 person event have little to separate them. The definition of tours and tastings vs marketing events is blurred. At present the only real distinction is that marketing events can happen at night. Of the many impacts that tourist activities bring to remote areas of the county, the worst is the potential for nighttime activities. In this regard the Limited winery ordinance should incorporate one standard condition: any Limited winery ordinance should preclude nighttime events entirely.

E. Will be located at least one thousand feet from any incorporated city or town boundary.

Some clarification is needed as to why this provision is included. What adverse impact will this prevent? 1000 ft isn't very far when you are talking about 10 acre properties.