SodaCanyonRoad | Mountain Peak: BOS statement

Mountain Peak: BOS statement
Bill Hocker | May 15, 2017 on: Mountain Peak Winery


I am Bill Hocker, 3460 Soda Canyon Road. I am a neighbor of the project and an appellant.

The Mountain Peak site is located 6 miles up a winding dead-end road, The road is the only access to the Rector plateau, going up a steep grade and through a narrow pass before reaching the project site near the edge of the gorge that drains the watershed. Although the wilderness has disappeared into vines in the last two decades, it is still, to most all who live there, a very remote place.

Mountain Peak would be the fourth winery built on the plateau. It would also be the first post-WDO winery and the first dependent on tourism to justify its existence. It would host 15000 yearly visitors, up to 60 visitors a day, and have 19 daily employees. Vehicle traffic to and from the site would add about 100 trips per day to the existing 400 or so generated by residents and the extensive vineyard operations. With the daily tourism, the sense and reality of remoteness will be gone.

In January, Mountain Peak was approved with a 3 to 1 vote by the Planning Commission. One Commissioner exercised discretion and did not support the visitation requested, heeding your interpretive guidance appended to the 2010 WDO:

"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 [the county] endeavors to ensure a direct relationship between access constraints and on-site marketing and visitation programs"

This guidance seemed intended as a caution against development in remote areas as a result of the expansion of tourism activities allowed by changes to the WDO at the time. We have felt from the beginning that this guidance was written with a project like Mountain Peak in mind.

At the January hearing both the applicant and the county provides examples of "comparable" hillside wineries to help commissioners evaluate the Mountain Peak visitation numbers.

During the hearing, Rick Marshall, the chief county road engineer, drew a distinction 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 faced in maintaining county roads, indicating that dead-end roads would be low on their repair priorities once funding arrives. He concluded by asking: "Is it appropriate to put this land use on this dead end road?" He left that answer to the commissioners discretion.

In our community presentation at the hearing, we looked at the details of those comparables with emphasis on the dead-end nature of our road. Our analysis at the hearing?

Of the Applicant's 5 examples, 3 were on state highways, and a fourth is at the bottom of the heavily traveled Oakville Grade. The last was on the well-travelled White Cottege Rd in Angwin. The 3 with more visitation than Mountain Peak were all pre-WDO. The other 2 had less than a third the visitation.

Of the County's four 100,000 gal "hillside" wineries, 3, in fact, had their tasting rooms or wineries on the valley floor and one was at the junction of Hwy 121 and 128.

Our conclusion? None of the 9 was comparable to a 15,000 visitor/yr winery 6 miles up a dead-end road.

At the hearing Mr. Marshall also tentatively added this in terms of comparables: "An example to me that's similar is the Diamond Mountain Winery. It's similarly narrow, windy, in mountainous terrain, and it's a dead end." He didn't know its capacity or visitation. We looked it up: 10,000 gal and 1500 visitors per year.

Looking at Diamond Mountain, it seemed that a more appropriate comparison might be made to many other wineries in the county in which "remoteness of location" could be an issue. "Remoteness" I defined as being a mile or more off a state highway or the Trail in the mountainous areas of the county. Using Google maps and correlating with the County's winery database, 70 some "remote" wineries were found.

The result of this effort was an online interactive map and table of those wineries. I sent a link to it in my email submittal to the Board for this hearing. The table can be sorted to make comparisons based on capacity, visitation, distance from highways and distance on dead end roads, pre and post WDO wineries.

To summarize the conclusions that drawn from the exercise: Of all 71 remote wineries currently on the list, Mountain Peak falls almost entirely at or near the top 10% in each category.

Regarding capacity, it is the 7th on the list.
All remote wineries with a greater capacity than Mountain Peak are pre-WDO.
Mountain Peak has 1.7 x the average capacity.
It has 5 x the median or middle-range capacity, a better benchmark here because 3 large wineries at the top skew the averages.

in terms of Visitation, it is 6th on the list
It has 3 x the average visitation
and 6 x the median visitation

Post-WDO wineries
Of the 45 post WDO wineries in the sample:
It has the largest capacity of any post-WDO winery in these remote areas.
It has the 4th largest visitation
(Note that 2 of the 3 larger, Palmaz and Woolls were also very contentious approvals.)

In employees it is 3rd highest of remote wineries
Also in vehicle trips/day: 3rd highest
with 3 x the average trips per day
and 9 x the median trips per day.

Distance to Hwy
in terms of the Distance from state highway or the Trail: not quite a third of the way down the list at number 21.
But of those 20 further, Mountain Peak has the most visitation.
it is 2 miles further from a major highway than average

Dead-end roads
Of the 44 wineries on a dead-end road: 8th on the list.
Of the 7 further, it has the most visitation by far (almost 3 x as much as the next closest)
And it is 3 miles further up a dead-end road than average.

Soda Canyon Road
Finally of the 8?? Soda Canyon Road Wineries
In Capacity it is 2nd to the 450,000 gal year Pre-WDO Antica winery
In Visitation it is 1st by far on the road
It is almost 3 x the visitation of Antica. (Thankfully Antica uses very little of its allowed 5200 vis/yr. It is a winery built to process grapes not tourists. As such has been a good neighbor.)
Mountain Peak has 6x the average visitation of all other wineries on the road.
And 4 times the average trips.

In summary, while the Mountain Peak applicants argued that their numbers fell in the middle range of the comparable wineries originally presented, the reality is that, compared to a broader range of remote wineries, Mountain Peak's statistics are at the far upper end in every category. Looking at the intensity of production, visitation and remoteness together, Mountain Peak is clearly inappropriately scaled for the remote and rural location of upper Soda Canyon Road where it is being proposed.

Like Mr Marshall, I would like to end with my own comparable, recently approved at the planning commission, and one of the wineries on our list:

In reviewing the Black Sears Winery, the Planning Commission noted the remoteness of location and appropriate scaling of a 20,000 gal winery supplied by 26 acres of vines on a 100 acres of property, with 16 daily visitors and 4 employees. Black Sears is 2 and a half miles up a dead road from Howell Mountain Road in Angwin.

One commissioner said of the project. "It is unusually remote. I mean, literally it's at the end of the road. It's a long road."

A second commissioner felt it was "modest and to scale" and commented on the "great neighbor relations".

A third commissioner summed up the commission's consensus, saying the project "truly introduces modest visitation in a remote location... This is something we are trying to embrace."

All three commissioners voted to approve the Mountain Peak project as well: On a 40 acre site with a similar 25 acres of vines, the project has 5 times the capacity, up to 60 daily visitors, 19 employees, more than twice as far up a dead-end road, with a majority of households on the road having signed an opposition petition.

Unfortunately the inconsistancy in these decisions reflects a system of arbitrary requests and approvals based on speculative business plans in a case-by-case approach to land use planning. I was struck by the 100,000 gal comparables presented by the County for Mountain Peak: visitation ranged from 4400 to 151,000 visitors/year. Marketing plans to sell 100,000 gals of wine may differ, but that difference seems beyond the level of reasonable disparity. More interpretive guidance in making decisions was obviously needed.

The interpretive guidance in the WDO was a tacit recognition that changes made in 2010 would bring a faster shift from an industry devoted to wine making to one devoted to wine tourism, and that there was a value in constraining that transition in the more remote areas of the county where, as with Mountain Peak, tourism is making its first inroads. I think that the planning commission came to the right decision in the Black Sears project: an appropriately scaled project in a remote location can win the backing of the residents that must live with it. On Soda Canyon Road, the pushback by residents through their petitions and their efforts in this room are a better indication of innappropriate scale than all of the number crunching and fact-based analysis we have just gone through. The majority on the planning commission did not make the right decision on Mountain Peak. I appeal to you to right that wrong and require a more appropritately scaled project in this remote locaiton.

Thank you