County proposes winery fast-track
Bill Hocker | Jul 19, 2017
NVR 7/8/17: Napa County eyes streamlining approval process for smaller wineries
Proposed Limited Winery Ordinance
Dir. Morrison's request for comments.
Local Procedures for Implementing CEQA (CEQA sm. winery def. see appendix B, #10)
Comments are due by August 4th, 2016 4:00pm and should be sent to
What can one say? Vineyard properties are currently being given use permits for new building projects at the rate of one a month (and increases to existing wineries at two per month) even with Planning Commission review. Apparently that is still not fast enough to keep up with developer's desire to profit from an expanding tourism economy and booming real estate prices. The County wants to streamline the process, providing an easier avenue for speculators to increase resale value with "winery-ready" properties. Not one more gallon of Napa wine will be added to the county's "wine industry", just more luxury estates and tourism venues. This is not about affordable small "family" wineries. It's about expediting a real estate strategy targeting wealthy investors.
And the requests for expansions to these fast-track use-permits can still be expected to continue to clog up the PC pipeline for some time to come.
One can see the problem from the County's standpoint: The amount of pushback from residents who will be negatively impacted by all of the proposed development is beginning to bog down a process whose purpose is to allow public participation. The solution proposed is to reduce the visibility and amount of public input in the process.
The Planning Commission is a public event. Its meetings are predictable and previewed on the county's website and in the Register. Its proceedings are broadcast and a video archive is retained. The county claims that the public will have a similar opportunity to vet projects being presented to the Zoning Administrator. But notification will only go to residents within 1000' of the project. No previews in a public calendar. And likely no mention in the Register. It will then be up to a neighbor to make the project known to a wider audience, a daunting tsk for some. Once the hearing is done, no record beyond brief meeting minutes will be available for review. But the collective changes that these projects bring, with increased tourism throughout the remote areas of the county and the expansion of taxpayer-funded infrastructure to accommodate an ever increasing number of tourists and employees, will affect the county as a whole, not just the immediate neighbors.
As a recent article on Visit Napa Valley highlights, county and municipal governments seem to see a growth economy as the prime objective of governance. As we have seen in all meetings throughout the last few years, the county is unwilling to seriously consider the increasing cumulative impacts of "growth" that have led to so much resident opposition. In this proposal, conceding to the demands of the development industries, they wish to make the opposition more difficult. The County's continued promotion of building projects and the resulting impacts on traffic, affordable housing, community character, infrastructure and service demands, the physical landscape and resource sustainability, run counter to the County's stated image of itself in the first paragraph of its Vision Statement in the General Plan:
"While other Bay Area counties have experienced unprecedented development and urban infrastructure expansion over the last four decades, Napa County’s citizens have conscientiously preserved the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure."
Many county residents, seeing the urbanization taking place before their eyes, no longer feel that vision is being supported by their government, and they must again, conscientiously, make their voices heard. In a public forum.
The question the County should be addressing is not how the approval of building projects can be streamlined to increase the pace of urban development, but how to scale back the amount of development being proposed, as previous Napa County governments have done with the ag preserve and zoning ordinances, to insure that Napa remains a rural, agricultural place to be treasured in the future. Fast-tracking building projects is not the answer.
NVR 10/2/15: Planners look at fast-tracking small wineries
Note the difference between the 2015 and the current proposal: the requirement that grapes must come from the property has been eliminated. Wineries can be approved under the new proposal on properties having no vineyard potential (like The Caves); a lease on grapes (currently leased by someone else, no doubt) suffices. There is no mention of use-permit revocation in the ordinance, so presumably the lease may be sold as soon as the winery is approved.
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