SodaCanyonRoad | "Compatible winery" session 2 recap
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"Compatible winery" session 2 recap


Bill Hocker | Oct 21, 2018 on: Compatible Winery Ordinance

NVR 10/21/18: Napa County continues remote winery discussion
Video of 10/16/18 BOS meeting

At the Oct 16, 2018 BOS meeting, Dir. Morrison produced an agenda letter that identified 7 constraint criteria around which the compatibility of a winery with its site might be evaluated: traffic, custom crush, hold and haul, topography, fire safety, visitation, variances and exception. It was a first stab at itemizing the issues which an ordinance might concern itself.

After public comments (including Eve Kahn's comments on food, and threats from the wine industry lobbyists about the can of worms this discussion was opening), it didn't seem like any of the Supervisors were completely happy with the approach. Sup Dillon led off with the initial salvo, and since it highlighted an 'incompatible' winery on Soda Canyon Road (and my potential next door neighbor), it is worth quoting in its entirety:

"First of all, I don't think this [Dir. Morrisons compatibility issue list] is ready to be put into an ordinance or any other document. I really think in general that we're focused on these details when what should happen is a common sense application of "does this proposal fit into this place?"

I can remember a year and half ago when I thought, "oh-oh, I think we're in a little bit of trouble" because I looked at the Mountain Peak winery comparison chart - this is compatibility but compatibility is a comparison - that had been prepared by the planning staff and it was for Mountain Peak at the top of the canyon . And it was compared to Ashes and Diamonds, Round Pond, Black Stallion, Tinter, Alpha Omega. Why on earth was it compared to those things?

I remember thinking this is not a good thing because we're not comparing apples to apples. And the essence of what we're talking about today, the reason this started with "remote" is we're supposed to be talking - not comparing a winery at the top of Soda Canyon to a winery on the Silverado Trail. You just can't make that comparison. And yet that's where we are right here and we're talking about these details, and what I'm really concerned about is going through each of these things - one, two, three, four, five, six, seven - and deciding on each of these factors and then you are going to have some proposal come before the planning commission that might technically fit into each of these, but it's not a good fit at this location where it is.

And I realize that this is land use planning and so it's a little difficult to use - I don't know if it was a metaphor - in the discussion of pornography there was a judge who said at one point "I'll know it when I see it"? Well the flip of that is "I'll know when this is not a good fit" at this location based on what neighbors say, based on many factors.

And that was the way the winery definition ordinance was designed. It didn't have all these details in it. If you look at the American Canyon council approves expansive Watson Ranch development after years of study from when it was decided, the legislative history, which I wish staff would bring to us, it said we're going to look at these on a case by case basis. So I don't think this is the way for us to solve the problem which we have, which is we have had a planning commission that has approved wineries that are not compatible with the neighborhood or the physical situation where they're located. Then we have a lot of community consternation and/or we have an appeal to here.

One of the things that is missing from this process is a meeting between the planning commission and this board - it's been at least a couple of years - and we used to have that regularly and we would have some interaction and they'd get informal direction, and that informal direction solidified that decision making that was based on a common sense approach of what was the appropriate thing to do.

Going through each of these [7 points] and having these as decision points - to me its not the answer to the challenge that we do have before us. I question, for instance, on number seven, variances and exceptions: " strictly construe the regulations to protect health and safety". Does that mean that there's another case where we're going to loosely construe? I just don't think this is ready for prime time.

I think we should be looking at other things.I think we should be looking at the bigger picture. We just had out Strategic plan folks say - what was the number one thing people appreciated about Napa valley in the slide show that had no building in it [holds up photos in report] by the way. I think it's very interesting that we always show vineyards without wineries in them and I think we should show wineries in them because they are part of the landscape and part of the context. But what we cherish is natural beauty and environment.

I think we should go look as some other solutions that were previously proposed. For instance, instead of thinking about the minimum parcel size of a winery - I not saying we should reduce the 10 acres - think about how close they should be in appearance. If you have a place where you have a whole bunch of 10 acre parcels you're going to have whole bunch of wineries and I think it creates something that is adverse to what we cherish about this place. So either increasing the minimum parcel size in certain areas, talking about the developable area including of the residence. One of the things that was left over at APAC was the residential coverage. We have got to get to that because all those things we are saying about wineries? - residents could do far more - a mini-mansion of mega-mansion. Talking about the distance between wineries. And talking about the safety issues. Those are the things I think we should focus on."

Sup. Wagenknecht also had some interesting comments perhaps also worth quoting to know where one supervisor stands on remote wineries:
"This discussion was far beyond what I was anticipating. I still ...when we talked about it what we were talking about was a "remote" winery. I was concerned about the remoteness. And in the work product we have today [Dir. Morrisons's 7 points] there is no mention the remoteness of the ... what a remote winery, remote site would be.

I think it could be a lot of things. The remoteness of the road. The narrowness of the road. The accessibility of the parcel. How far the parcel was from arterials. Most of the things that you have in here would help address a remote winery very nicely. I guess I'm kinda in the mindset, in my mind, that I'm not seeing a real need for more wineries in the far hinterlands of Napa County. I'm seeing that we have plenty of them out there. So I liked having these things to look at remote wineries.

To me the remote winery was my access point to this discussion. There would need to be a traffic benefit from the winery coming in, the traffic for the overall neighborhood coming in. There would need to be a fire safety and a safety benefit for that winery coming in. Emergency benefit. The water... we kinda talked about this that the water was... sometimes they're going to get/move[?] the winery, they say that we'll put in the grapes now that we have a winery. The grapes should be the reason that you're having the winery up there not the other way around.

A lot of these questions help me answer the remote winery question. And I've appreciated the discussion we've had more broadly, but I don't want to lose that I'm very concerned with wineries that are going out in the middle of nowhere. And I'm not seeing a huge reason for them. And maybe in the discussion with the Planning Commission I'll see that but I don't see it right at the moment. That was my access point to this discussion."

(Sup. Luce expressed similar concerns at the Mar 10, 2015 joint BOS/PC meeting and it probably cost him his re-election. Let's hope that three more years of winery and visitation slot approvals and community pushback have altered some perceptions.)

Each of the other Supes had their own preferences or disinterests about the 7 point list. Sups. Pedroza and Gregory were all about prohibiting custom crush in remote areas; too bad they did nothing to stop the expansion of The Caves. And I really appreciate Sups. Dillon and Wagenknecht championing this issue; I wish that their concerns had been as clear during the Mountain Peak appeal.

I couldn't help but feel some sympathy for Dir. Morrison as the discussion careened from one issue to another, especially after he had made a concerted proposal to get at winery proliferation issues 3 years before with little success. It had been a long day and he finally held up a white flag and claimed to have been given enough direction. It will be interesting to see his responses to the Supervisors own internal divisions and lack clarity in their demands, and how the process, which may require modifications to the WDO, unfolds over the months that it will take to play out.

As happened 3 years ago with APAC going on, this scrutiny of winery issues is happening in tandem with another significant public planning process, this time the Napa Strategic Plan which will also be covering some the same community concerns, At the end of the meeting there was some consensus around melding the winery growth concerns raised in the Strategic Plan with these proposals on compatible wineries as part of the joint meeting with the Planning Commission.