Bill Hocker | Nov 1, 2019 on: Remote Winery Ordinance
Diamond Mtn Rd approaching the site
Mike Hackett LTE 11/1/19: Remote winery approval is poor planning
Charles de Limus LTE 10/29/19: Negligent omission and Napa County's liability
NVR 10/19/19: Despite public concerns, Napa County approves a 'remote' winery on a mountain road
Caloyannidis opposition letter
In the Planning Commission hearing of Oct 16, 2019 four winery projects were approved, a new normal perhaps. After a summer hiatus, and a year of light, non-controversial, winery approvals as the planning department dealt with staff shortages, fire rebuilds, "recognize and allow" submittals, and the watershed, winery streamlining and cannibus ordinances, the government seems to be pressing ahead full force to expedite the 80 or so projects on the county's pending projects page.
Of the Oct 16th approvals, it was hard to tell which was the most egregious: the Bremer "recognize and allow" permit after truly outrageous flouting of the county's laws; or the Hard Six Cellars Winery approval as another inappropriate location for a tourist attraction intruding into the rural peace and tranquility of the county.
The winery was approved to allow 80 (or is it 112?) visitors/week for tours and tastings, and events up to 125 people (leaving at 10:00pm). Diamond Mountain Road doesn't meet the county's road and street standards. It is, in fact, a one lane road , far short of the 2-10' lanes plus 1' shoulder the county requires. The driveway on the site also does meet those standards, and exemptions were granted. This deficiency of legal access alone should be enough to should be enough to deny the project form simply a practicality standpoint.
In approving Hard Six, several commissioners felt that the lack of the "Remote Winery Ordinance" (one of many "to do" items on the Supervisor's bucket list) prevented them from evaluating this winery any differently from the standpoint of access constraints than a winery on the Trail.
But, of course, realizing the potential impacts of their 2010 changes to WDO to encourage more tourism at wineries, the Supervisors made exactly this distinction in their Interpretive guidance at the time:
"To insure that the intensity of winery activities is appropriately scaled, the County considers the remoteness of the location and the amount of wine to be produced at a facility when reviewing use permit proposals, and endeavors to ensure a direct relationship between access constraints and on-site marketing and visitation programs"
This approval also comes in the wake of the 2017 fires, and a renewed understating about the consequences of building in areas with "access constraints". Our own neighborhood-busting winery approval, Mountain Peak at the top of Soda Canyon Road, was approved by the Supervisors on the basis that "In the event of a fire that results in mass evacuations from this area, the road has sufficient capacity and roadway width to accommodate all outgoing traffic while allowing incoming fire response units."
In the Atlas fire of 2017, a tree fall blocked the road to exiting traffic and to incoming response vehicles. The tree was moved enough to allow cars to get by, but by that time the entirety of the canyon was engulfed in flames. The response vehicles retreated and the residents that remained on the upper parts of the road had to be evacuated by helicopter, a dangerous task in the ferocious winds. A judge has ruled that the Supervisors must reconsider their approval based on the evidence of the actual fire dangers on Soda Canyon road.
Diamond Mountain Road is both narrower and more heavily forested than Soda Canyon Road. It did not burn in the 2017 fires, and the fuel load and potential tree falls remain severe. A fire during a 125 person event at the winery could be catastrophic. The planning commissioners who voted to approve the project seem to be ignoring the recent evidence of the real dangers that concentrating tourism activities in the remote hillsides of the county will present. It may be a decision that comes back to haunt them.